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Jester Chess

by Thomas Havel

Jester Chess is a unique game in that it emphasizes the fun aspect of chess variants. Its jocular mood is achieved through the use of a new piece called the Jester. Each game is bound to cause some smiles, laughs and howls, along with the usual vexations that all chess enthusiasts enjoy. While there was no attempt to incorporate the element of chance into the game, situations may arise which seem to border on chaos.

The Pieces

Jester Chess uses the six familiar FIDE Chess pieces, plus four new pieces, which are described below:

THE JESTER has no move of its own but mimics the move of the last opponent piece played. The Jester is subject to two constraints:

  1. It may capture only when the piece that it mimics has just captured.
  2. It is always limited to a one-square advance when mimicking a Pawn or Steward.

The Jester was inspired by T. R. Dawson’s Imitating Joker.

THE STEWARD is a ‘quadra-pawn’. It moves as a Pawn in all four directions. The icon for the Steward is four small Pawns facing the four orthogonal directions. In play, two Stewards linked in mutual coverage make a formidable barrier to an up-the-center attack.

THE MURRAY LION was created inadvertently when chess historian H. J. R. Murray erred in describing the Chu Shogi lion in The History of Chess. However, Murray’s piece is in many ways more playable than its Chu Shogi Counterpart. The Murray Lion may leap to the second square either orthogonally or diagonally -- or it may move only to capture as a King.
THE ARCHER is unique in that it always moves without capturing and always captures without moving. Its move description reads as follows:

  1. The Archer may move without capturing up to two squares in any of the three forward directions or one square in any of the three rearward directions. It may not move horizontally or as a Knight.
  2. The Archer may shoot (capture) to any of the three forward-adjacent squares without actually moving.

The Archer may seem gratuitously complex, yet its move was finalized only after years of play testing. Given any more power, it tends to dominate the game.

The Board

The 10x11 Jester Chess array is shown below.

Click here for cutout piece patterns.

Click here to download Jester Chess for Zillions of Games. (Not yet available)

The Rules

The rules for Jester are the same as for FIDE Chess, except for the following changes:

  1. Each player moves two consecutive pieces until capturing. Upon capturing, a player loses his two-move privilege for the duration of the game. A capture must be made on the first and only move of a turn. [A Jester may not be moved as a part of the double-move option.]
  2. Pawns and Stewards have the option of advancing two squares forward-most on their first moves.
  3. Neither en passant captures nor castling is allowed.
  4. A Jester always assumes the move privileges of the last opponent piece played. However, a Jester does not assume the capture privileges, unless the opponent piece has just captured.
  5. A Jester may mimic the move of another Jester.
  6. A Jester mimicking a King is not subject to check.
  7. When an opponent piece promotes, the Jester immediately assumes the move of the promoted piece.
  8. Certain pieces will automatically promote, according to the following schedule, upon reaching or surpassing the 9th rank. No other promotions are allowed.


The following schedule of promotions will apply to pieces arriving at the 9th rank. Pieces not listed here do not promote.

Pawns promote to STEWARDS. The steward is a ‘quadra-pawn’ that may move and capture as a Pawn in all four directions. The Steward is described earlier in this document.

Knights promote to MARCHING KNIGHTS. The Marching Knight may leap as a Knight or move one square orthogonally -- with or without capturing.

Murray Lions promote to REGAL LIONS. The Regal Lion may leap to the second square (either diagonally or orthogonally) or move as a King -- with or without capturing.

Bishops promote to ARCHBISHOPS. The Archbishop may move as a Bishop or move one square orthogonally -- with or without capturing.

Rooks promote to ARCHROOKS. The Archrook may move as a Rook or move one square diagonally -- with or without capturing.

Piece Values
(adjusted for a 10x11 board)


= 0.6


= 9.1


= 0.9


= 2.0 (valued as a fighting piece)


= 2.7


= 3.? (see Playing Tips below )


= 2.8

Marching Knight

= 3.6


= 3.4


= 4.6


= 4.7

Regal Lion

= 5.4


= 5.5


= 6.5

Playing Tips

In Jester Chess, you should go all out to protect your home turf from opponent promotions. For when an opponent piece promotes, it usually inflicts a number of casualties. This breach in defense enables other promotions, thereby feeding a vicious circle. Consequently, the first player to promote a major piece is likely to control the game. The irony here is that the more effort one commits to winning promotions, the less capable he will be of protecting his own territory. Another Irony is that the more promoted pieces that you have, the more power will be conveyed to your opponent's Jesters.

Archers should be advanced slowly and deliberately, for they do not retreat well. Nevertheless, a well-deployed Archer makes a near-impenetrable defense. A good strategy is to use one Archer to cover the Pawn line and to hold the other one back for contingencies.

Jesters are basically opportunistic pieces and tend to work best in the middlegame. A good tactic is to place them in paths leading to major opponent pieces in the hope that your opponent will inadvertently empower them. But even if the Jester is never fully empowered, its threatening presence will discourage certain opponent pieces from capturing. In this sense, Jesters can be used as a means of ‘extortion’, as they protect other allied pieces from attack.

Due to the Jester's mercurial properties, it is almost impossible to assign it a value. Remember that the piece often ranks as low as a pawn and sometimes as high as a Queen. Yet most experienced players will exchange a Jester for a Bishop or an Archer, if it will win them a good position.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why does the Jester have restrictions on its ability to imitate? Would not a Jester with full imitation powers be simpler to play with?

A: Originally, the Jester had no such restrictions and tended to dominate game. It was weakened in order to achieve a more balanced game.

Q: If the opponent piece were a Queen which made a diagonal non-capturing move, would the Jester be limited to making a diagonal non-capturing move?

A: No. The Jester would be allowed to make any non-capturing that a Queen could make.

Q: If the opponent piece were a Queen which made a diagonal capturing move, would the Jester be limited to making a diagonal capturing move?

A: No. The Jester would be allowed to make any capturing or non-capturing move that a Queen could make.

Q: If you make a capturing move with your Queen, and your opponent's Jester subsequently makes a non-capturing move (as a Queen), which move would your Jester inherit? -- the full Queen move or the limited Jester move?

A: The limited Jester move. Since the first Jester did not capture, the second Jester may not capture.

Q: If a piece promotes on its move, does the Jester imitate the original piece or the promoted piece?

A: The promoted piece.

Q: If I have a Rook that is "pinned" by an opponent Jester (as in the following diagram), can I move my Rook out of file b, if I make the move without capturing?

|   | K |   |   |
|   | R |   |   |
|   |   |   |   |
|   | J |   |   |
  a   b   c   d 

A: Yes. But your Rook may not move out of file b plus make a capture, as this would enable the opponent Jester to check your King.

Q: Why is the Steward shown worth only 1-1/2 Pawns, in the Piece Values section? This seems counterintuitive.

A: Two Reasons: (1) The Steward does not promote whereas the Pawn does. (2) The Steward is valued as an individual piece. A Steward pair, linked in mutual coverage, would be valued at about two Pawns a piece.

Tom Havel’s e-mail address is (email removed contact us for address)

Text and graphics by John William Brown. HTML by David Howe.
This variant is an entry in the 1999 Large Variant contest.

WWW page created: March 10, 1999. Last modified: May 8, 1999.