Tuesday, January 24, 2017


According to the conventional wisdom, there are two types of chess players who like to play so-called chess variants (games of chess in which the normal rules have been altered in some way)—those who are very good at chess, like world champion Jose Raul Capablanca (who invented a chess variant), and those who are not very good at chess, like me (who invented several chess variants). There are thousands of chess variants, and most of them are very bad. Some, however, are very good. Shogi, or Japanese Chess, is an excellent game in its own right, and it is very different from Western Chess, with its flat, pointed pieces which can be parachuted back onto the board if they are captured. The pieces look like little boats or little arrowheads, and although the sides are called black and white as in Western Chess, the pieces are all the same color. You can tell which player has a piece by which way the piece is pointing.

One of my favorite chess variants is a game which is known by several different names—Neo-Chess, Drop Chess, Mad Mate, Reinforcement Chess, Turnabout Chess, Schizo Chess, and Chessgi. The game has been invented and re-invented several times, with the earliest incarnation of the game appearing in 1827 and the latest (Neo-Chess) being invented by Alex Randolph in 1972. It was supposedly re-invented under the name of Chessgi in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s by a group of college students who wanted to play Shogi but couldn’t find a Shogi set.

The name Chessgi is the most descriptive of all the names that the game has gone under. If you know the rules of Chess, the rules of Chessgi are simple. Chessgi is played exactly like Chess with the addition of the following rules: (1) A captured piece becomes the property of the player capturing it and may be parachuted back onto the board in a subsequent move. (2) If a captured piece is parachuted onto the board, no piece on the board can be moved. (3) A pawn cannot be parachuted onto the back row where it cannot move. (4) If a piece which has promoted from a pawn is captured, it does not lose its promoted rank.

Playing the game is cumbersome. You need at least two sets so that a captured piece can be replace it with a piece of the captor’s color before being parachuted back onto the board. You need a flow chart to keep up with what’s been captured and who has captured it. Neo-Chess, which is a proprietary game, solved the problem by replacing the pieces with cylinders. On one end of the cylinders would be the symbols for the pieces in one color and on the other end would be the symbols for the pieces in the other color. When a piece was captured, the captor could simply turn it over. Neo-Chess is no longer on the market, but you can occasionally find a used set on ebay.

I don’t know when I first became aware of Chessgi. I think it was shortly after I joined The Knights of the Square Table (NOST), a now-defunct postal chess club. When I read about the game in the pages of the NOST newsletter, I wanted to play it, but I didn’t want to fool around with two chess sets  and I had never heard of Neo-Chess. I had already made myself a Shogi set, so I decided to make a Chessgi set.

I had previously made a Shogi set using directions I found in a library book, so I decided to make my Chessgi set exactly as I had made my first Shogi set. Cutting out the little pointed pieces was easy. The hard part was figuring out how to put the symbols on them. When I made my Shogi set, I used a stencil to put the initials of the pieces on the wooden shapes, but I wanted real Chess symbols on the Chessgi pieces. Having no Chess stencil and no artistic talent, I decided to photocopy drawings of the pieces and glue them on the wooden arrowheads. I had black symbols on one side and white symbols on the other so that the pieces could be flipped over as in Neo-Chess, but I soon discovered that I only needed one color because it was easy to distinguish the sides by the way the pieces pointed. We’ve moved twice since I made that Chessgi set, and I have no idea where it is. 

Recently I got in the mood to play some Chessgi, so I made another set. This time I used a chess figurine stencil from Amazon.com to put the symbols on the pieces. Although it wasn’t necessary, I put black symbols on one side of the pieces and red symbols on the other. The set looks like this:

Now if I can just find someone to play against.