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The Chess Variant Pages

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Ultima was created by veteran game designer Robert Abbott and published in Recreational Mathematics Magazine in August 1962. As yet it did not have a name. Abbott later included it in his 1963 book "Abbott's New Card Games" under the title of 'Ultima'. In his 1968 edition, he added a rule to patch up what he perceived to be a flaw in the game. This rule limited the number of squares that a piece could move: A piece on the Nth rank could move no more than N squares.

Ultima soon became popular in chess-variant circles and was said to be played even in the Kriegspiel fashion. It was most popular with the postal-chess club NOST (Knights of the Square Table) and its Italian cousin AISE. Both NOST and AISE use the original 1963 rules, which are now considered the norm. Between 1985 and '87, a three-part article on Ultima was written for World Game Review by the leading NOST player, Dr. Paul Yearout. Robert Abbott later contributed an article in '88 voicing what he considered to be wrong with the game. Yearout and other leading players, however, do not share Abbott's critical views. Both NOST-Algia (NOST's bimonthly bulletin) and Eteroscacco (AISE's newsletter) have published many sample games of Ultima.


Ultima is played with the Orthodox Chess pieces and chess board. The pieces, however, have different names and different moves:

Opening Setup

The Ultima array is shown below:



King d1; Withdrawer (Queen) e1; Coordinator (Rook) h1; Immobiliser (Reversed rook) a1; Long Leaper (Knight) b1, g1; Chameleon (Bishop) c1, f1; Pawn a2, b2, c2, d2, e2, f2, g2, h2.

King d8; Withdrawer (Queen) e8; Coordinator (Rook) h8; Immobiliser (Reversed rook) a8; Long Leaper (Knight) b8, g8; Chameleon (Bishop) c8, f8; Pawn a7, b7, c7, d7, e7, f7, g7, h7.

The Ultima array differs from the Orthodox array in the following ways:

Whites pieces are, from left to right: Immobilizer, Long Leaper, Chameleon, King, Withdrawer, Chameleon, Long Leaper, Coordinator.

Alternate Pieces

Those unaccustomed to playing Ultima may have difficulties with the Orthodox chessmen. Below is an array featuring picto-graphic pieces which can be drawn or printed onto flat disks such as checkers or poker chips.


The King moves and captures as an Orthodox King. An Ultima King, however, may move adjacent to an enemy King under certain conditions -- those being when the enemy King is being held fast by an Immobilizer. Such a move would be considered a check.

/ The Withdrawer moves passively as an Orthodox Queen. In order to capture, the Withdrawer must occupy a square adjacent to an enemy piece. To complete the capture, it must move one-or-more squares directly away from the enemy piece. For example, a Withdrawer moving from d2 to g2 captures only an enemy piece at c2 (not c3/d3/e3/c1/d1/e1). A Withdrawer may never move to an occupied square. Animated Illustration.

/ Pawns move as Orthodox Rooks and perform custodial captures only. For example, a Pawn captures an enemy piece by moving adjacent to it in a manner that completes a straight line consisting of (1) Pawn, (2) enemy piece, (3) friendly piece. Thus, it is possible for a Pawn to capture three pieces in a single move. A Pawn may never move to an occupied square. Animated Illustration.

/ The Long Leaper moves as an Orthodox Queen and captures by overtaking. It takes possession of a single intervening piece by leaping to a vacant square somewhere beyond it. It may capture additional pieces, along the same line, if a vacant 'landing square' lies somewhere beyond each enemy piece. A Long Leaper may never jump over a friendly piece, jump over adjacent pieces, or move to an occupied square. Animated Illustration.

/ The Immobilizer moves as an Orthodox Queen but does not capture. An enemy piece standing adjacent to an Immobilizer may not move while the Immobilizer is present. Black and white Immobilizers, occupying adjacent squares, are each frozen until the other is captured. An immobilized piece may 'commit suicide' by removing itself from the board (usually to open a line of attack). This counts as a move for the player removing the piece. The Immobilizer may never move to an occupied square. Animated Illustration.

/ The Coordinator moves as an Orthodox Queen but captures by 'coordinating' with the King. Upon completing its move, the Coordinator may remove an enemy piece with which (1) it shares a file, and (2) its King shares a rank (or vice versa). Thus, it is possible for a Coordinator to capture two pieces at once. (e.g.: King at a3, Coordinator moves to c7 and captures pieces at a7 and/or c3.) The Coordinator may never move to any occupied square. Animated Illustration.

/ The Chameleon moves passively as an Orthodox Queen. To capture, it mimics the powers of its intended victim. For example, it 'pinches' Pawns (when moving as a Rook), withdraws from Withdrawers, leaps over Long Leapers, and coordinates Coordinators. By the same token, an enemy King standing adjacent to a Chameleon is considered in check. Chameleons can freeze Immobilizers but cannot capture them. Animated Illustration.

Object of the game

Ultima is won by checkmating or stalemating the opponent King.


A description of Ultima was posted on on October 3, 1990 by Mark-Jason Dominus (email removed contact us for address) Michael Keller (editor of World Game Review) sent me a email letter, pointing out much additional information and several corrections.
The description above is based mainly on the letter of Michael Keller, but part of rule descriptions are taken from the posting of Mark-Jason Dominus. Some minor additional editing was done by Hans Bodlaender.

Feb 2000: Alternate piece graphics added by David Howe.
Feb 2000: Details on the 1968 rule change added by David Howe.
March 2000: David Howe added links to annimated illustrations.
June 2000: David Howe fixed initial setup diagram (Queen and King were switched) (thanks Ed Friedlander).
November 2001: Ultima is our Recognized Variant of the month. Thanks to John William Brown for re-editing this page for the occasion.

WWW page created: 1995 or 1996. Last modified: 5 November 2001.