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Longshanks Chess

Introduction

I remember the first book I read on chess theory. I believe the name of it was How to See Three Moves Ahead in Chess, but I could be wrong. The name wasn’t all that important, but what it taught me was. All I knew about chess before reading it were the basic rules. After trying its many puzzles and absorbing its lessons, I had a new grasp of tactics and strategies. I’m still not the world’s greatest chess player by any means, but this book had a profound impact on both my love of the game and my perception of its subtleties.

Now this anecdote may be charming at best, but I do recall one lesson that it taught that I didn’t fully agree with. If memory serves, it taught that the center was where every piece has the maximum potential number of squares to which it could move. There was more to its emphasis on the center than this summary, but I quickly realized that this statement wasn’t absolutely true. On an empty board, a bishop certainly had more squares which it could reach when positioned in the center of the chess board. So did a queen. A knight didn’t have to occupy the very center, but as long as it wasn’t hampered by the board’s edge, it had a maximum of available squares, and likewise with a king or a pawn. But the rook, no matter which square it was stationed upon, could reach an equal number of squares: 14. Neither the center nor the sides produced any hindrance or gave any benefit. Here I learned that the bishops were not only disadvantaged by being limited to half the board; they were inhibited by the board’s edge in a way that the rooks would never be.


Bishop can reach 14 squares

Bishop only reaches 7 squares


Rook can reach 14 squares

Rook still can reach 14 squares

Setup

Of course one can discuss other merits or shortcomings of these pieces that result in their current values, but my purpose here was only to make a simple, minor change: increase the diagonals and decrease the orthogonals. Resulting in a game similar to Morley’s variants (with which this game certainly shares resemblance), I propose the following board change and setup:

My goal was to create a board where all the diagonals are of equal length. Other than such a change, I determined to preserve everything else as best I could. All rules are the same. Pawn promotions occur automatically on the rank immediately behind the opponent’s starting pawn lineup, and a pawn stuck in a corner before reaching the promotion rank is just plain out o’ luck (unless it makes a capture, of course).

In the case of castling, the means and end are all still the same, with only the starting point of the rooks changed. Note in the following diagrams that even the queenside knight must be moved out of the way, though it doesn’t even technically interfere with any of the pieces moving.

The opening setup was designed to facilitate a standard chess opening game. The knights and bishops can’t move initially without another piece moving, and all the pawns, save those on the ends, are just as well defended as they are in regular chess.

Notes

The resulting game should preserve much of the theory of opening and middle game chess. Major differences will be more mobile bishops (since on an empty board they can now reach a maximum of 11 squares, regardless of position), and a possible lack of needing to castle (it might be better to simply retreat the king behind the rooks since the space is there and the rooks are already centered). Rooks are actually able to still reach a large number of squares (12 as a minimum, 22 as a maximum on an empty board), but they are still quite hampered, unable to reach many squares as easily. Though a rook may normally have two approaches to a non-orthogonal square, it often only has one approach in this game. Because of this, the rook is even more hampered on a crowded board, and therefore probably is even less likely to become particularly active until the endgame.


Two approaches to square X

Only one possible approach to square X

It took me some time to settle on the opening setup. I chose this one in order to preserve as much as I could of the original. However, the king, queen, and rooks are still rather free to roam around in the background without the pawns even budging. Though some other aspect of the original setup might be sacrificed in the process, I encourage other players to try different, such as the more restrictive setups. Players may prefer these restrictions over the pawn defenses or similarity to the original positioning. Or you may come to like a completely different setup. This style of board lends itself to a new genre of chess games. Try anything out, and see how you like it.

As a final note, after authoring this game, a similar game has come to my attention: Balbo’s Chess. It shares a motivation for its creation, as well as a diamond shape. However, I feel that mine preserves more of orthodox chess, as well as maintain better balance among the bishops’ values and board symmetry.



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By Jonathan H Rutherford.
Web page created: 2007-12-16. Web page last updated: 2007-12-16