Check out Chess with Different Armies, our featured variant for July, 2024.

This page is written by the game's inventor, Ralph Betza.

Chess with Different Armies

So what is here in Chess with Different Armies, anyway? Basically, it's a list of several new armies (or teams) that can fight on equal terms with the regular old good-old old-fashioned standard orthodox orthodox chess army that Kasparov and Karpov use to play their games, and which is usually called "The Fabulous FIDEs" in this context.

I wanted to be able to let the players choose their pieces from a list of pieces and values, the way war games work with "buy points", or the way "fantasy leagues" work; I found that the values aren't sufficiently precise, and that the team as a whole must be considered. Some pieces work together well, and choosing them in combination adds to the value of the army as a whole; other pieces do not, and an army made up of them will be weaker on the board than it would seem to be "on paper".

Because of these problems, it seemed best to have a whole army designed by somebody who understands the problem of values -- me, of course!


The standard FIDE rules of Chess apply except as follows:
  1. Different Armies Rather than forcing both players to use the same army of pieces, this game allows the players to have different armies. The Kings and Pawns are always the standard FIDE Kings and Pawns, but there is a list of standard armies that are approved for tournament play in Chess (as opposed to Chess Variants) with different armies.

    The choice of armies may be made by negotiation, by assignment (assigned by the tournament rules or the tournament director), by random choice, or by secret/simultaneous choice; this list is intended to name all the possible ways rather than to forbid any methods not mentioned.

  2. Same Armies In some cases, for example random choice, it is possible for both players to have the same army. In fact, both players could have the FIDE army! The rules of this game permit this, but it is legal for the rules of any particular match, tournament, league, ladder, or friendly game to forbid it.

    If same-army play is forbidden, then it is the player of the Black pieces who must break the tie, either by choosing (freely or randomly) a different army or by declining the choice and forcing White to do so. In other words, if both players get the same army but may not play a same-army game, Black has the choice either to choose another army or to keep the army he already has and force White to choose another.

  3. Pawn Promotion When a Pawn is promoted, it may become any kind of piece that was in either army at the start of the game.
  4. Castling Even though the pieces on a1/a8/h1/h8 may not be Rooks, Castling is still permitted according to the normal patterns. In one case, Castling is different. When the piece on a1 or a8 is a colorbound piece, Castling must be done by moving the King 3 squares (to b1 or b8) and hopping the other piece over it (to c1 or c8). This is not optional.


The setup and piece descriptions for three different armies are given here. Note that this game is by no means limited to these three armies (four if you include the Fabulous FIDEs), but I have chosen these three as well-explored and playtested. Note that some piece names for the Nutty Knights have been changed. This was deemed necessary for ease of pronunciation, and for aesthetic purposes.


The Colorbound Clobberers

This is an army with a theme, and the theme is the Bishop. The Colorbound Clobberers have two kinds of colorbound pieces, that is, two kinds of pieces whose moves are restricted to squares of one color.

In addition, the Clobberers have an unusual material balance: their Queen is notably weaker than the FIDE Queen, and their Bishop (the FAD) is noticeably stronger.

See Ralph's original page for more information on The Colorbound Clobberers.

Moves like a Bishop or a Dabbabah. Text notation: BD. [a1,h1,a8,h8]
Moves like a Wazir or an Alfil. Text notation: WA. [b1,g1,b8,g8]
Moves like a Ferz, an Alfil, or a Dabbabah. Text notation: FA. [c1,f1,c8,f8]
Moves like a Bishop or a Knight. Text notation: CA. [d1,d8]

The Nutty Knights

This team has been recruited from the homeland of the FIDE Knight, a mountainous place where the inhabitants have had to learn to leap from one peak to another.

Not only are all the pieces on this team Knightish, but in many cases they can't go back to where they came from. That is, they are also like the FIDE Pawn in that their forward motion is not the same as their retreating motion.

See Ralph's original page for more information on The Nutty Knights.

Charging Rook
Moves like a Rook forward and sideways, or moves like a King backwards. Text notation: CR. [a1,h1,a8,h8]
Moves like a Knight for its two longest forward and backward moves, or a Ferz. Text notation: FN. [b1,g1,b8,g8]
Charging Knight
Moves like a Knight for its four forward moves, or moves like a king sideways and backwards. Text notation: CN. [c1,f1,c8,f8]
Moves like a Rook forwards or sideways, or a Knight in a knight's four foward moves, or a king. Text notation: CO. [d1,d8]

The Remarkable Rookies

Rookland is a remarkably rectangular island, with very straight streets, and the pieces that grow up there reflect this in their orthogonal style of play.

See Ralph's original page for more information on The Remarkable Rookies.

Short Rook
Moves like a Rook, but only up to 4 spaces. Text notation: SR. [a1,h1,a8,h8]
Woody Rook
Moves like a Dabbabah, or a Wazir. Text notation: WR. [b1,g1,b8,g8]
Moves like a Dabbabah, or like a Ferz, or can move three squares Rookwise (jumping over obstacles). Text notation: HD. [c1,f1,c8,f8]
Moves like a Rook, or a Knight. Text notation: CH. [d1,d8]


I had always thought of "Chess with Different Armies" as a "Chess Variant", but when Vlad Roytman was good enough to play a series of games against me, I was shocked to discover that "Chess with Different Armies" is Chess, pure and simple!

Yes, this is Chess, "real Chess". It still feels like Chess, the games are exactly as long and exactly as difficult as Chess, the opening, endgames, and middlegames are just like Chess. Development, centralization, overprotection, initiative, weak-square complexes, they are all here. This is Chess. Heavy-duty, serious Chess.

But it's also all so different, of course. You can throw away the opening variations you memorized (but keep the general principles you learned from them). When you're trying to win a tough endgame in which you have a piece that moves like a Rook-plus-Knight, you can't look it up in Cheron or Averbakh (but many of the methods you learned there are still useful).

Computer Play

If you have Zillions of Games installed on your computer, you can play this game. Download file: Or another version with different graphics:

You can also play this game by email, using the web-based Play by Mail system on this site.

Sample Game

Many sample games can be found linked from Ralph's original page.

Here is a sample game of the Remarkable Rookies vs. the Fabulous FIDEs.

Game Courier Logs

Here are logs of games played on our site with Game Courier. Because each game is logged by a name referring to the specific armies used, such as "Colorbound Clobberers vs. Nutty Knights," this link uses a wildcard pattern that will match all names used for different selections of armies.

Written by Ralph Betza. Editing and graphics by David Howe.
WWW page created: May 27, 2002.