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

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

Poker Chess

In Poker Chess, each turn a poker hand is formed by the location of the pieces on the squares, and the game is decided by winning a preponderance of hands.

This text presents the simplest forms of Poker Chess, along with the basic rules that should apply to all variants of Poker Chess.

Basic Rules of Poker Chess

Rule Zero except as follows.

Deal: The 52 cards of a standard poker deck are assigned to squares on the chessboard, with all the Black cards on Black's side of the board and all the Red cards on White's side.

Hand: Each turn (after Black's move), the players form poker hands from the cards assigned to the squares occupied by their pieces, and a winner for that hand is decided.

Winning: When the game ends, whoever has won more hands has won the game.

Wipeout: If one side has won a certain number of hands more than the opponent, the game is over.

Mate: Checkmate counts as winning a number of hands, and ends the game. One can give mate and still lose.

Deal: Assigning the cards to the Squares

Normally, the Red and Black cards should be symmetrical; otherwise one side might start with a huge advantage.

The standard pattern has no cards on e4, e5, d4, d5, c4, c5, f4, f5, d3, e3, e6, and d6: because these squares are so important to the chess part of the game, making them worthless to the poker part of the game creates strategic tension.

Predefined Deals

Predefined deals may be designed to create an interesting game.

A few suggested deals are given later in this article.

Random Deals

Shuffle the 26 red cards and deal them out onto White's side of the board, and as each red card is placed, the corresponding black card should be placed in the symmetrical position on Black's side of the board: for example, if the Ace of Hearts is on a1, the Ace of Spades should be on a8; if the Ace of Diamonds is on f2, the Ace of Clubs should be on f7.

A random deal may not be as good as a predefined deal, but on the other hand each random deal presents a new strategical and tactical problem to the players.

Hand Formation

Hands are formed by your 4 highest-ranked pieces plus your choice of one of your lowest-ranked.

Examples of Hand Formation

Thus, in the opening position, your poker hand consists of whatever card your Queen is standing on, plus whatever card your Queen is on, plus the cards under the Rooks, plus your choice of any of the 8 cards under your Pawns.

If your Queen is taken, you get the cards under the King, Rooks, your choice of Bishop, and your choice of Pawn. This means that trading pieces can have strange consequences.

If you have fewer than 5 cards, perhaps you can still win the hand! After all, a pair of Aces beats a mess of 5 unpaired cards. (Note: This rule was chosen to make endgame play more interesting.)

The Cards Speak for Themselves?

A player who is unfamiliar with poker might choose the wrong cards.

Unless you have a computer moderator nothing can be done about this.


When the chess part of the game ends (by checkmate, stalemate, exhaustion of mating material, triple repetition, or the 50-move rule), whoever has won more hands wins the game, and if the poker standing is even, the game is counted as a draw.

However, checkmate gives a bonus number of hands won, as discussed below.


If one side is ahead by a certain number of hands, the game ends.

The number makes a big difference to the strategy and play of the game.

With a large number, you can afford to lose a few hands in return for a better chess position, figuring that you can make up for it later, when better mobility or more material will allow you to win hands at will.

With a very small number, such as 3, there is extreme danger that you will lose by wipeout before your superior chess position can make itself felt.

A medium number, such as 5 (or 4 or 6), seems to me to be the best compromise for the "standard" wipeout limit.


Checkmate ends the game, and the hand for that turn is not evaluated.

You get a bonus for checkmate. It should be smaller than the wipeout limit, but nearly as large.

Because the wipeout limit and the checkmate bonus are related, here is a table of suggested values:

Wipeout  Checkmate
=======  =========
   1        1
   3        2
   5        3 or 4
   7        5
   13       10

Variants of Poker Chess

If you take the number of different chess variants that exist, multiply it by the number of different poker variants that exist, multiply by the number of different card decks times the number of different chessboard shapes and sizes, you get a basic idea of the number of possible variants of Poker Chess. Read 'em and weep.

In the basic game, as presented above, the cards are dealt just once, at the start of the game, all the cards are face up, and pieces that have never moved still help in the formation of hands. These things need not be so: roll your own.

In the basic game, there are no wild cards, no wagers, no hole cards, all the cards are on the table, and only 5 pieces can be used to pull cards into your hand. You may raise the limit.

In the basic game, hands are formed by pieces of certain ranks, rather than, for example, by the five or seven most recently moved pieces. Shut up and deal.

Different Armies

Of course the game generally works well with different armies, but there is one exception.

An army with 8 different types of piece would suffer a small disadvantage in the poker part of the game. For example, if you trade Queens, normal armies get to choose which Bishop pulls a card, but the hypothetical army of 8 types does not get a choice; and this is clearly an advantage for the normal army.

Predefined Deals

There follow a few Poker Chess board layouts, and some comments on each.

In all cases, all hearts are in the lower right, all spades upper right, all diamonds lower left, all clubs upper left. This makes it difficult to get a flush.

Also, in the ugly ASCII diagrams the single character "0" is used to represent a ten.

Corner Aces

8 A360063A
7 259KK952
6 48Q..Q84
5 7J....J7
4 7J....J7
3 48Q..Q84
2 259KK952
1 A360063A
The primary design goal of this deal is that the need to preserve the pair of Aces ought to lead to many short games in which one of the players gets into trouble by failing to Castle.

At the start, both players have AA00K. Remember that you only use one Pawn, so you don't have a pair of Kings.

After 1. e4 e5 2. Qe2, White has AAKK0, but has blocked the Bf1. With a high wipeout limit, Black would probably choose to give up a few hands to try for a better position; but with a low limit, Black would need to put the Queen on e7.

Thus, with a low limit, 1. e4 e5 2. Qe2 Qe7 3. b4!? with the idea that Jacks are the easiest triplets to try to get. The symmetrical 3...b5 4 Nc3 c6 breaks symmetry, and then 5 a4 seems to give White a definite advantage in the struggle to get either three Jacks or three sevens; 5. a4 ba4 6. Na4 (Not 6.Ra4? breaking up the pair of Aces) Ba6? (prevents Nb6 by unpinning a7) 7. c4 with the deadly threat of 8. b5 cb5 9. cb5 Bb7 10. Ba3 breaking up Black's pair of Kings. Black must try 7... Bxc4 8. Qxc4 which is hopeless unless the limit is only 2, when 8...Na6 9. Qe2 (or 9. Ke2!) Nxb4 10. Kd1 Nd3 11. Nh3 Nxc1 12. Kxc1 Qa3+ (White wins a hand, even score) 13. Kb1! (13. Rxa3 is a wipeout loss) Rb8+? (White wins a hand, going one up) 14. Qb5!! and White wins by wipeout. But wait! 13. Kb1 Qb3+! 14. Kc1 Ba3+ and Black loses by wipeout, right now! If the limit were 3, or even 100, Black would win now (15. Ra3 breaks up White's Aces, then Qa3+ and keeps checking as many times as needed); but with a limit of 2, the game ends right here.

If instead, 1. e4 e5 2. Qe2 Qe7 3. b4 b5 4. Nc3 c6 5. a4 ba4 6. Na4 Na6! (hoping for 7. b5 cb5 8. cb5 Nb4!) 7. Ba3 Nc7 8. b5? Qa3! (White wins a hand) 9. Ra3 Ba3 (Black wins a hand), and Black has a huge advantage because of the pair of Aces. In fact, Black must win at least the next 4 hands!

Earlier, I said "7. c4 with the deadly threat of 8. b5 cb5 9. cb5 Bb7 10. Ba3"; but the analysis above suggests that 10. Ba3 Qxa3 would be good for Black! This is a complex position and I really don't know who is winning.

Rande Schande?

8 54322345
7 98766789
6 QJ0..0JQ
5 AK....KA
4 AK....KA
3 QJ0..0JQ
2 98766789
1 54322345
This layout is designed to give high cards to pieces that are developed into bad positions.

Twisted Corner Aces

8 A360A360
7 259K259K
6 48Q..48Q
5 7J....7J
4 7J....7J
3 48Q..48Q
2 259K259K
1 A360A360
This is the first deal with a different symmetry.

Royal Flush

4 32....23
3 654..456
2 09877890
Castling Kingside would give you the highest possible simple straight.


Poker Chess has great interest, and with luck it could become quite popular.

In Poker Chess, winning the chess game should, in the long run, win the poker game as well. Extra pieces should allow you to get better hands and catch up from a deficit, plus perhaps you may grab the checkmate bonus to take the lead.

On the other hand, accepting a slightly worse position in order to win a few hands puts great pressure on the opponent, which may eventually lead to your getting the better of the chess game; or, of course, you might win a few more hands and score a wipeout!

The interplay between these two aspects of the game provides fascinating play.

Playing with different wipeout limits provides additional appeal.

Some people might like to play with a limit of 1, random deals, and a fast clock. Other people might like to play a series of games with the same deal and with a limit of 6. The games would be so different that it is improbable that the same person would enjoy both.

Written by Ralph Betza.
WWW page created: February 7, 2003.