(1) Special attention be given to the use of the Cannon, Vao and Leo in chess compositions.The Cannon (Pao), Vao and Leo (Chinese line pieces) are fairy chess pieces that move exactly like the orthodox Rook, Bishop and Queen respectively, but to capture must hop over one piece of either color. Instructional examples and composed problems are presented below to demonstrate their tactical potential. I have tried to make these problems entertaining in themselves. Four criticisms of orthodox (European) chess are discussed, and it is argued that a free placement version of chess could overcome these criticisms and eventually sustain more interest than orthodox chess.
(2) A new version of chess be developed which (i) allows some "free placement" of units, (ii) abandons castling
and double pawn moves, and (iii) incorporates the Cannon, and Vao into the game.
1. The Chinese Pieces: Cannon, Vao, Leo and Mao
2. Problems and Endgame Studies with Chinese Line Pieces
3. Critique of Orthodox Chess.
4. Free Placement Chess.
5. Contact, Links and References.
INSTRUCTIONAL EXAMPLES: 1. The Cannon, Vao, Leo and Mao 2. Triple check
PROBLEMS AND ENDGAME STUDIES:
3. Mate in three 4. Mate in three 5. White draws 6. White wins 7. Mate in three 8. Helpmate in two
9. Series mate in four (2) 10. Mate in three (3) 11. Mate in two 12. Mate in two 13. Mate in three
FREE PLACEMENT CHESS: A & B. Burmese Pawn Placements.
The Cannon moves like an orthodox rook along a rank or file, but to capture must hop over one piece of either color (the "frame") and continue on the line beyond until encountering an opposing piece. This piece is then removed from the board and the Cannon occupies its square.
The Vao moves like a Bishop, but to capture must (like the Cannon) hop over a piece of either color.
The Leo combines the movement and capturing of the
Cannon and Vao, just as the orthodox Queen combines the powers
of the Rook and Bishop.
The Mao moves to
and captures on squares a Knight's move away, but accomplishes
this in two steps: (i) a one-step orthogonal move to an unoccupied square,
and (ii) a one-step move on an outward diagonal from that
square. Its move is not sufficiently distinct from that of the
Knight to justify their both being present in a game. Further,
the unblockable move of the orthodox Knight is to be preferred
over the Mao, since it distinguishes the Knight in a useful and
pleasing way from line pieces.
following lists all possible moves and captures by the Chinese
Pieces in Diagram 1.
White Cannon a1. Moves to a2 through a8. Captures on c1.
White Vao b1. Moves to a2, d3. Captures on h7. It can not move to c2 because this would put the white King in check.
Black Cannon c1. Moves to c2, c3, c4, d1. Captures on a1.
Black Mao e1. Moves to c2+, d3+. Captures on f3. It can not move to g2 because it is blocked on f1.
Black Leo f1. Moves to e2, d3, c4+, b5, a6, f2, g1, g2, h3. Captures on f7.
I have designed this example so that it is a simple problem
as well. In a "helpmate" Black cooperates with White to produce
a checkmate of the black King as soon as possible. So, from a
game perspective, Black makes the worst possible moves. The
convention is for Black to play first in a helpmate. So for this
position, can you "helpmate in one move"? This means Black makes
a certain move that allows White to checkmate on the next move.
The "Cannon" was introduced into Chinese Chess (Xiangqi) in the ninth century after artillery had been used in wars (Li, p. 222). The "Chariot" in Xiangqi moves and captures like an orthodox Rook, and the Cannon also moves like a Rook when "deployed." But to capture (fire), the Cannon must employ a "frame" (a piece of either color), and the action then extends on the line beyond the frame. The Mao (Horse) was also present in early versions of Xiangqi.
Apparently neither the Vao (called an "Arrow" by Fergus Duniho) nor the Leo were ever used in a chess variant, Asian or otherwise, until recently. The Chinese pieces were introduced into Western "Fairy Chess" problems by T. R. Dawson around 1914 (Dickins). In problem literature a Cannon is usually referred to as a "Pao," which is Dawson's rendering of the Chinese word for Cannon, and he made up the words "Vao" and "Leo." I prefer "Cannon" since the terms "Pao, Vao, Leo, Mao" are singsong and easy to confuse, and "Pao" starts with a "P" as does "Pawn."
If new pieces are to be added to orthodox chess, the Chinese
line pieces (Cannon, Vao, Leo) are a logical choice. In earlier
experiments I thought the "Lion" was preferable. This piece both
moves and captures as the Leo captures. The Lion proved to be a
terror in the opening but a tethered lamb in an endgame. By
contrast the Leo is always a mobile piece, though much weaker
than an orthodox Queen. The "Grasshopper" moves and captures
like the Lion except only to the one square immediately beyond
the frame piece. Thus it is a much weaker piece than even the
Lion. It has been very popular in fairy chess problems, usually
appearing in considerable numbers. This may be due more to
fashion than function, but in any case it is too immobile to add
much interest as a game piece. The "Nightrider" may make
repeated Knight moves along a single direction. It too has been
very popular in problems, but children have enough trouble
learning how a Knight moves to ask them to master the
Nightrider. Few other powerful fairy pieces seem suitable for
use in a "near-orthodox" game, perhaps with the exception of the
"Aldarider" (moves like a Queen except that it hops over every
other square, occupied or not). Surely the Chinese line pieces
are leading candidates to be added to orthodox chess, and to
learn one is to learn all three. They do not capture as they
move, but this is not a total breach of orthodoxy since the
trait is shared by the Pawn. The apocryphal text, Dodgson's "Frogs Manuscript" Decoded,
suggests Lewis Carroll planned to introduce Chinese line pieces
The Chinese line pieces (CVL = Cannon, Vao, Leo) have the following characteristics:
A. Legal Initial PositionsFor all the compositions below one can proceed as if they were just orthodox positions with Chinese pieces added. Thus any Pawns present on the second rank can move two squares forward (Option #1). Allowing Pawns to appear on the first or last rank would be a useful convention for composing. A case can be made that promotion to a dummy Pawn should be allowed in orthodox chess. This would be a slight simplification of the rules, and would probably not effect the outcome of
(1) Each side has one King and any number of Pawns, Rooks, Knights, Bishops, Queens, Cannons, Vaos, or Leos, as long as all the pieces fit on the board.
(2) All positions are allowed unless they imply a check has been ignored. Thus Pawns may be on the first or last rank. Multiple Pawns can be lined up on a single file without implying a capture. It is not required that the initial position be derivable from some standard position by a sequence of legal moves.
B. Legal Moves
(1) All the moves of orthodox chess and Chinese line pieces are allowed except for double Pawns moves (and hence en passant capture) and castling.
(2) A Pawn can "promote" to an immobile unpromotable Pawn.
(1) Orthodox Pawns are stipulated.
(2) The only fairy pieces that are present are Cannons.
(3) The board is 10x10.
I have used Alybadix,
a chess problem solving program designed by Ilkka Blom, to check
direct mate, helpmate and series problems below. "Fairybadix" is
the component of Alybadix that accommodates fairy pieces (over
220) and fairy conditions. The Windows interface for Alybadix
(APwin, developed by P. H. Wiereyn) was used to produce the
diagrams. The endgame studies were not checked by computer -
please report any errors. Links to the solution of each problem
appear next to the diagrams. The diagram is repeated on its
solution page. You may use any of the text and diagrams. Please
Diagram 3 presents a "direct mate" problem: The moves
alternate with White playing first. White must find the move on
his first turn (the "key") that results in a checkmate in the
stipulated number of moves, regardless of the defenses chosen by
black. So for this problem White must checkmate on his third
move. An additional, unintended first move by White which also
solves the problem is called a "cook." With the availability of
problem solving computer programs, direct mate problems are
rarely unsound now. A common way to designate that a diagram
represents a direct mate in n moves is by the symbol "#n".
Another direct mate in three moves.
The usual specifications for an endgame study are for white
to win or to draw, but not in a fixed number of moves. To "win"
means White obtains a clear material advantage, perhaps
checkmates in some lines, or arrives at a position known in the
literature to be a win. The specification to draw means that
there are sufficient exchanges that neither side can force a
win, perhaps White or Black is stalemated in some lines, or a
position can be forced to recur. The use of fairy pieces in
endgame studies is much less frequent than their use in direct
mate and helpmate problems.
Diagram 6 illustrates the use of a Chinese piece, here the white Vao on c2, to modify an existing composition. The pawns here are orthodox (option 1 above). Thus the black pawn on h7 can move to h5. The original study by Holzhausen and Sohege appears on the solution link.
In memory of Kate Wolf.
Many published problems with fairy pieces are "helpmates,"
in which Black and White cooperate to achieve a mating move by
White. It is conventional for Black to move first, and for Black
moves to be listed first in transcribing a solution. Thus in
Diagram 8, Black moves first, the players alternate moving, and
White's second move is a checkmate. Since there is no
variational play in a helpmate, it has become conventional in
two move helpmates for there to be two or more thematically
In a "series mate" only white makes moves, without any checking until the final move which must be a checkmate. Here Problem 1 is the diagram. For Problem 2 replace the Cannon with a Rook. The mating position in Problem 2 is more elegant and may have been anticipated.
Orthodox chess is vulnerable to criticism on the following points.
The rise of chess playing computer programs makes "memorization" a serious threat to orthodox chess as a game of wits. In the humiliating 1997 match victory of "Deep Blue" over then world champion Gary Kasparov, the huge opening repertoire of the computer was decisive (Chess Life, p. 45). Granted the best tactical chess players often excel at opening theory, and innovation in the opening demands a high order of creativity. But such praise can not apply to Deep Blue, which won the sixth and final game of the match by the automated retrieval of an opening variation. Does it speak well of chess that this capability is such an important factor in determining who wins?
Computers will Dominate.
A recent tabulation lists 15 chess programs having a rating of over 2600. Shredder 7.04 was highest at 2726. There are only about 100 players in the world with a rating of over 2600. So already the typical club player has virtually no chance against many chess playing programs. One source claims that the top 200 players in the world are holding their own against the robots in the last three years. Perhaps, but just another doubling of chip speed could reverse that. Computer domination of competitive chess is already a fact. And think of the temptation to cheat in human tournaments by using a concealed or remote computer.
There are too many draws at high levels of play.
Whatever game is being played, it is difficult to prevent the combatants from prematurely agreeing to a draw. But even without connivance, chess at the highest levels is subject to excessive draws. In the 23 world championship matches from 1951 to 2000 the draws numbered 321 out of 492 games (link), or 62 percent. In the 1986 match between Karpov and Kasparov 40 of the 48 games were drawn.
Certain rules are unnecessary.
It is reasonable to judge that one set of rules is more "simple" than another if it employs fewer words. Another criterion, more important but more difficult to measure, would be how easy it is to learn a set of rules. It is appealing to play a game under the simplest possible rules that enable typical play.
The most arbitrary and difficult to learn rules of orthodox
chess describe (1) the initial placement of the pieces, (2)
castling, (3) en passant capture. Of course an adult masters
these rules after a few hours of study and playing. But they are
not so easy for children, who if unsupervised may play for years
and still place a Queen on the wrong color, or not know about en
passant capture. All three of these rules are unnecessary if
free placement is implemented.
Orthodox chess, with its fixed initial position, is unlikely to be independently invented, as by an extraterrestrial civilization. By contrast, the Asian game Weiqi (Go) has such simple rules that there may be many alien civilizations that play the same game. Further support for this conjecture derives from the Weiqi symbolism of flood control (Li, p. 140).
Over the years there have been many suggestions to allow shuffling the positions of the major pieces in orthodox chess behind the line of Pawns on the second rank. One such proposal, involving randomization, was made by former world chess champion Bobby Fischer (Chess Life, p. 531). In this proposal castling is awkwardly maintained, as if it were an essential feature of chess. But if we allow all the pieces, including Pawns, to be placed freely within some "home territory" (such as the first three ranks), we at once make castling unnecessary since the King can be placed in a secured location on the side of the board. Free placement also removes the motivation for permitting a double first move by Pawns since they can start out on the third (or fourth) rank. Pawns might also be placed on the first rank for defensive purposes.
In recent years variants have been proposed that permit some freedom of placement. In "Free Programme Chess" the units are placed in turn anywhere in one's half of the board. The Kings are placed first. Pawns may be placed freely but can not be doubled or placed on the first rank. They retain the double move from the second rank. Bishops must be placed on opposite colors (Pritchard, p. 20). A master level tournament was held using these rules in Tbilisi, Georgia in 1995. Some free placement chess variants can be found on The Chess Variant Pages (for example, the variant called "Free Placement"). We suspect that the best game will result from free placement with restrictions. Just deciding what home territory should be is not easy. Murray (p. 454) claimed that early experiments "in which the pieces were rearranged so as to be more nearly in contact at the commencement of play," did not survive because with the advent of a much more powerful Queen and Bishop the forces were too close together. But if so, the forces can simply be moved apart one or more spaces, alternately employing straight pawn lines or an asymmetric Burmese arrangement (Diagrams A or B above).
If one thinks the war analogy of chess is useful, free
placement is more realistic and better training than starting
play in one fixed arrangement as in orthodox chess. Recent wars
involve considerable positioning of forces and supplies long
before hostilities commence. And once they do, battle lines no
longer conform to traditional arrangements of foot soldiers,
cavalry, elephants, artillery, commanders, etc. as in centuries
Free placement provides the opportunity to introduce new pieces in the palette of Western chess. It has been proposed that the Chinese line pieces are the best choice. With an increased force it is reasonable to expand the playing field, thus the use of a 10 x10 board would probably make the best game if, say, two Cannons, two Vaos and a Leo were added to each player's orthodox pieces. Murray stated that "enlarged games of chess have rarely shown any vitality," because they were too taxing to be recreational (p. 454). But a larger board may decrease complications that arise in a cluttered position. And the 12 x 8 "Courier Game" was popular from 1200 to after 1650, about the duration of orthodox chess so far.
Free Placement ameliorates each of the four problems with orthodox chess listed above. With thousands of viable starting positions the possibility of defeating an opponent by using a previously analyzed opening is greatly lessened. The placement phase should also make matters much more difficult for computer programs. Ultimately the computers would excel in this strategic effort also, but to do so will require a different and more interesting programming method than the current brute force evaluation of all possible moves. And during play, the use of a 10x10 board and additional pieces will increase the number of possible moves. If the number on each turn were increased by just 50%, after 12 "plies" (six moves) the number of variations to test increases by over 100 times. That should slow down the silicon competitors. There should be fewer draws also. An agreement to draw can be prohibited during placement, and the greater freedom of arrangement and loss of familiar guideposts should engender aggressive schemes and blunders. Also the penetrating power of the Chinese line pieces should make blocked positions more difficult to maintain. For example, the sacrifice of a Vao for two Pawns should be a frequent consideration since the Vao is a less valuable piece than either a Knight or Bishop. Finally, free placement can eliminate the most arbitrary rules of orthodox chess: the initial position, castling, double pawn moves and en passant capture. If we also allow promotion to a Pawn, only then will all the following simple descriptions apply to chess.
(1) The empty board is homogeneous. Only the edge of the board, and for Pawns their direction of movement, effect the power of a piece. With free placement and in the course of a game, any piece may occupy any square.Elimination of en passant capture and castling excludes many problems that involve deducing what the last move was. But castling is an absurd option in the context of free placement of the major pieces. Determining the last move could still be a problem.
(2) Only one piece moves at a time.
(3) A capturing piece always occupies the square of the piece captured.
(4) All positions are non-historical. The possible moves and captures in a position are determined solely by the location of the pieces on the board and who has the move, regardless of the particular sequence of moves that could have produced the position.
Comments, corrections or suggestions are welcomed.
Email: Daniel W.
Chess Life, Special Summer Issue 1997, Vol. 52, No. 7.
The Chess Variants Pages. http://www.chessvariants.com/
Dickins, Anthony. A Guide to Fairy Chess. Dover Publications, New York. 1971.
Dodgson's "Frogs Manuscript" Decoded
Duniho, Fergus. Eurasian Chess. http://www.chessvariants.com/large.dir/eurasian.html
Li, David H. The Genealogy of Chess. Premier Publishing. 1998.
Murray, H. J. R. A History of Chess. Oxford University Press, Oxbow Books reprint. 1913.
Pritchard, D. B. Popular Chess Variants. B. T. Batsford Ltd, London. 2000.
Employ the Dead! - Sam Loyd's Dummy Promotion
White, Alain C. Sam Loyd and His Chess Problems. Dover Publications. 1962.