Six new variants, including four from the recent AlphaZero paper, are now available for all Chess.com members to try out. The can be found at Chess.com/variants.
The recent scientific paper from Google’s DeepMind, co-written by 14th world chess champion Vladimir Kramnik, caused quite a stir. The nine variants that were tested by the self-learning chess engine AlphaZero were discussed widely in the chess world.
Now, four of them can be played on Chess.com. Three other variants are now available on our site as well. Here’s an overview, starting with the AlphaZero ones:
This is a variant that’s easy to understand and possibly closest to regular chess: castling is not allowed, and that’s it. As GM Magnus Carlsen remarked this weekend, he would have answered GM Hikaru Nakamura‘s Bongcloud 1.e4 e5 2.Ke2 (which Naka played against GM Jeffery Xiong) with 2…Ke7 and after 3.Ke1 Ke8 you have No Castling chess.
But it’s safer to play the variant itself, now available on our site so that you don’t run the risk of playing that Bongcloud and getting an opponent that doesn’t play along and smashes you instead.
This variant was called Self-capture in the Deepmind paper. It basically allows you to take your own pieces as well, in addition to your opponent’s pieces. You can imagine positions where it makes sense for a rook to take the pawn in front of it because opening a line could be (much) more valuable than that pawn.
Kramnik was very enthusiastic about this variant. He wrote: “I like this variation a lot, I would even go as far as to say that to me this is simply an improved version of regular chess.” (…) Regardless of its relatively minor effect on the openings, self-captures add aesthetically beautiful motifs in the middlegames and provides additional options and winning motifs in endgames.”
On Friday, September 18 Chess.com hosted a round-table discussion with GM Vladimir Kramnik, IM Danny Rensch, and researchers of Deepmind discussing their latest paper in which AlphaZero explores chess variants. Here it is for replay:
This is possibly the most complicated variant of all: pawns are not only allowed to run forward but also sideways. As Kramnik wrote, “[e]ven after having looked at how AlphaZero plays Pawnside chess, the principles of play remain somewhat mysterious—it is not entirely clear what each side should aim for. The patterns are very different, and this makes many moves visually appear very strange, as they would be mistakes in classical chess.”
Torpedo speeds up the game as here pawns can move by one or two squares anywhere on the board. (In standard chess, only in the starting position are they allowed to move two squares.) Interestingly, en passant can consequently happen anywhere on the board. But the biggest difference is that games become more tactical compared to standard chess. Watch those pawns.
Besides the four variants tested by AlphaZero, three other variants have been made available this week as well. Fog of War, also known as Dark Chess, has been the most popular so far. It is a variant where the main novelty is lack of information: you can only see the squares where you pieces or pawns can move and attack.
If you want to remove any information (instead of the board itself, which you’ll need to play), you can try out Blindfold chess. In addition to being a fun challenge, this could be a good way to train your visualisation skills.
Playing blindfold chess has such a rich history that there’s a separate Wikipedia page on it as well as a page in our Terms section. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the Melody Amber tournament had top grandmasters play blindfold chess behind a laptop for which special software was created. If the tournament were to be re-instated, they could just log into Chess.com.
So what are the rules? Well, for starters, the pieces have different names. The king is Raja, the queen Ferz, the rook Ratha, the bishop Alfil, the knight Ashva, and the pawn Bhata. The Ferz is much weaker is it can only move one square diagonally. The Alfil jumps two squares diagonally. Other than that, the pawns can only move one square and castling does not exist.
This is not all. As some of Chess.com’s programmers go pretty wild about variants, they are now working on a project called Custom variants, where members can mix and match rules to make their own variant.
That would be perfect for GM Levon Aronian, who already came up with something. He recently stated that he would like to try out Capture Anything but limit captures to the heavy pieces. Soon, he might be able to create Aronian Chess on Chess.com.
Interested in trying out the new variants? Find them at Chess.com/variants.