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This page is written by the game's inventor, John Leslie.

Hostage Chess

Hostage Chess is a chess variant, invented by John Leslie. In the Summer'99 issue of Variant Chess, David Pritchard termed this game as the chess variant of the decade, expressing how much he liked this variant.


This game, a variant on "Shogi" (Japanese chess), is played with just a single set of orthodox chessmen.

"Shogi" pieces behave like very odd chessmen: ones which change colour when captured. Shaped like spearheads, they turn so as to threaten their former allies, and can be parachuted back onto the board.

A previous western variant, Chessgi or "Drop Chess", needed two sets of chessmen so that changes of colour could be faked. In the new variant, no men change colour. Captured men become hostages, however, and exchanges of hostages make them into paratroopers.

Here are the main rules:

  1. To rescue a hostage from your opponent's prison, you have to release from your own prison some hostage at least equal in value.
  2. Rescued hostages must be parachuted immediately. Released ones, however, can be kept in "airfields" until the right moments arrive.

Full Rules of Hostage Chess

Each player owns two areas at the side of the board: a prison on the player's right, and an airfield on the player's left. Captured men (queens, too, being men) are held hostage in the prison of whoever captured them.

All other rules are just as in standard orthodox chess, except the following:

  1. Exchanging hostages: At the start of any turn of yours, you may decide to rescue a hostage held in your opponent's prison. You do so by exchanging it for another of equal or greater value, chosen by you from among those in your own prison. Your opponent cannot prevent the exchange. Values are in this order: pawn (least valuable); then knight and bishop (of equal value); then rook; then queen.
    First take the enemy man out of your prison, placing it in your opponent's airfield. It may later be parachuted onto the board to fight you.
    Next rescue your man, parachuting it at once. That ends your turn.
  2. Parachuting, usually called "dropping": In any turn you may, instead of moving anything in the western fashion, drop just one man of yours back onto the board, on a vacant square.
    The dropped man will be one you have just now rescued, or else one from your airfield.
    A pawn cannot be dropped onto an eighth-rank square (which is a promotion square, as in orthodox chess). Again, it cannot be dropped onto a first-rank square (which it never could reach in orthodox chess). These are the only restrictions on where men can be dropped, so your bishops may come to stand on squares of the same colour.
    [Castling and pawn jumps from the second rank are permitted even when involving dropped men, no matter where those men stood at the start of the game or what they did before being captured.]
  3. Promoting a pawn: You can move (rather than drop) a pawn onto an eighth-rank square, but only if your opponent's prison contains a queen, rook, bishop or knight. The pawn at once vacates the square, going into the prison. You then carry out the promotion by filling the vacated square with whichever you choose of the queen, rook, bishop or knight. [Note: When there is no such piece in your opponent's prison, any seventh-rank pawn of yours cannot attack the squares diagonally in front on it since it cannot move there. If standing on such a square, your opponent's king is not checked by the pawn. However, until the king moves off the square no queen, rook, bishop or knight of yours can be captured because capturing any such piece would put the king into check.]

[ When recording games, use the normal algebraic notation wherever possible. New notation is needed only for drops, since it is assumed that pawns vacating promotion squares, like captured men, are imprisoned as the rules specify, and that released men go to airfields. N*c7 means that a knight from an airfield drops onto c7, while (B-N)N*c7 means that an imprisoned bishop is released and a knight rescued, the knight then dropping onto c7. (R-P)*c7 means that a rook is released and a pawn rescued, the pawn then dropping on c7.]


See also:

Zillions of Games

Hostage Chess can now be played with Zillions of Games. This ZRF is currently the second update, finished on 4 December 2000. It corrects a bug with checkmating and seems to play a lot better than the first update. If your copy of Chess,_Hostage.zrf does not identify itself as the second update, you should download it again.

Written by John Leslie. First paragraph by Hans Bodlaender. Last section by Fergus Duniho.
WWW page created: September 27, 1999. Last Updated: December 4, 2000