The Chess Variant Pages

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This page is written by the game's inventor, Peter Aronson.

Snark Hunt

By Peter Aronson


     Snark Hunt is a Chess Variant inspired by Lewis Carroll's poem, The Hunting of the Snark, the classic Chess variant The Maharaja and the Sepoys and David Howe's variant Potential Chess. The black player starts with six Snarks (who might be Boojums -- see below), and is attempting to capture all of the white Kings (white starts with only one King, but Pawns may promote to Kings), the White player starts with an array of pieces -- A King, a Queen, two Barristers, two Bankers and six Pawns -- and is attempting to capture all of the Snarks. The game is played on a board of 41 squares, divided by chasms that can be leapt over by Pawns, Bankers, Barristers and Boojums, but not landed on:

But the danger was past--they had landed at last,
        With their boxes, portmanteaus, and bags:
Yet at first sight the crew were not pleased with the view,
        Which consisted to chasms and crags.

Board and Setup

                   8 | S |:S:| S |:S:| S |:S:|
                   7         |:::|   |:::|   |
                   6 |   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|
                   5 |:::|   |:::|
                   4 |   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|
                   3         |:::|   |:::|   |
                   2 | p |:p:| p |:p:| p |:p:|
                   1 |:b:| $ |:q:| k |:$:| b |
                       a   b   c   d   e   f

S stands for Snark (and J for Boojum), b for Barrister, $ for Banker, and the rest for what they usually stand for. The Queen is on opposite color because this is a highly irregular game. Notice that where you would expect to find squares a3, b3 d5, e5, f5, a7 and b7 there are chasms instead (beware!). Chasms are not part of the board, and so can not be landed on. They may only be crossed by leaping moves

snark hunt initial setup.

In the graphics, Barristers are represented by Rooks, Bankers by Knights, Snarks are represented by Kings and (if by some misadventure one should happen to be on the board) Boojums by Queens.

General Rules

          The rules of Snark Hunt are identical to those of orthodox chess, except when noted otherwise. Black wins if they capture all of white's Kings (white starts with one King, but Pawns can promote to King). White wins if Black has no Snarks left, all of them having either become Boojums or been captured. There is no checkmate for either player. If black converts their last Snark to a Boojum in order to capture the last white King, it is considered a victory for white.

The Movement of Pieces

          The King and the Queen both move as they do in orthodox chess, although a King castles with Barristers instead of Rooks, and castles one step toward the King side Barrister or two squares toward the Queens side Barrister.

King side castles from

Queen side castles from

          Pawns move as they do in orthodox chess, except that there is no en-passant capture (the poor Snark player having no Pawns), and Pawns may leap over chasms. A pawn leaps over a chasm by making a non-capturing move straight ahead from a2, b2, d4, e4, f4, a6 or b6, landing in a4, b4, d6, e6, f6, a8 or b8 respectively (the last two moves result in promotion). Pawns promote on the last rank, and may promote to a King, a Queen, a Barrister or a Banker.

          A Barrister moves either like a Rook or like an Alfil. That is, they can slide any distance through empty squares vertically or horizontally, optionally moving into a square occupied by an opposing piece to capture it, or it can leap two squares diagonally, passing over chasms and pieces of either side in the process. They may not slide across chasms, only leap.


          A Banker moves either like a Knight or like a Wazir. That is, it either makes a (1,2)-leap, moving either two squares in horizontal direction and one in vertical direction, or two squares in vertical direction and one in horizontal direction, passing over chasms and pieces of either side in the process; or, it moves a single step horizontally or vertically.


A Boojum moves like a Queen, except that it leaps over the square closest to it, passing over chasms and pieces of either side.




A Snark may either move like a King (one step in any direction), or like a Boojum, but if a Snark makes a Boojum move, it turns into a Boojum, and remains one for the remainder of the game.


          Snark Hunt was designed as an entry in the Chess Variant Pages 41-Square contest. Its initial inspiration was David Howe's variant Potential Chess, where a piece was of undecided type until it made a move that some kind of piece or pieces can not make, at which point it is revealed that that piece isn't any of those; Snarks and Boojums work that way, too, in a much more limited sense.

          A note about names. I used names out of the poem when creating new pieces, but to avoid confusion (of which this game probably has enough) I used the names of standard Chess pieces for those pieces that move like standard Chess pieces. But I had considered calling the King, the Baker, the Queen, the Bellman, and the Pawns, Forks.


"Come, listen, my men, while I tell you again
        The five unmistakable marks
By which you may know, wheresoever you go,
        The warranted genuine Snarks.

"Let us take them in order. The first is the taste,
        Which is meager and hollow, but crisp:
Like a coat that is rather too tight in the waist,
        With a flavor of Will-o-the-wisp.

"Its habit of getting up late you'll agree
        That it carries too far, when I say
That it frequently breakfasts at five-o'clock tea,
        And dines on the following day.

"The third is its slowness in taking a jest.
        Should you happen to venture on one,
It will sigh like a thing that is deeply distressed:
        And it always looks grave at a pun.

"The fourth is its fondness for bathing-machines,
        Which is constantly carries about,
And believes that they add to the beauty of scenes--
        A sentiment open to doubt.

"The fifth is ambition. It next will be right
        To describe each particular batch:
Distinguishing those that have feathers, and bite,
        And those that have whiskers, and scratch.

"For, although common Snarks do no manner of harm,
        Yet, I feel it my duty to say,
Some are Boojums--" The Bellman broke off in alarm,
        For the Baker had fainted away.

Zillions of Games

          I have written an implementation of Snark Hunt for Zillions of games. You can download it here:

Written by Peter Aronson.
WWW page created: October 18, 2000.