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Transcendental Chess

Transcendental chess was invented by Max Lawrence from Brooklyn, New York. It belongs to a large family of variants, where chess is played with the pieces set up differently at the start of the game. A later, similar game is Fischer Random Chess: most likely, Fischer was aware of Transcendental Chess when he proposed his own variant, and may have been inspired by it.

In 1981, the Transcendental Chess Organization was formed, an organization that still existed in 1994, and most probably still exists now. This is a lively organization, where many players play Transcendental Chess games, mostly by post. Already thousands of games have been played. Lawrence publishes a journal, called Transcendental Chess, which appears eigth times per year. In 1993, a subscription for overseas subscribers costed US$ 17. Write for more information to

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Randomly, a starting position is generated. The pieces of white are shuffled and put in random order on the squares a1 - h1. Likewise, the pieces of black are shuffled and put in random order on the squares a8 - h8. The setup of black may be different from the setup of white. Only setups where the bishops of each player are on squares of different colors are taken.

To make this fair, games are always played in pairs - the same setup is used in both games. Each player plays white in one of the two games and black in the other.

There is no castling. In his first move, a player may, instead of making a normal move, use transposition: exchange the positions of two of the pieces at the first row. A transposition that puts the bishops of a player on squares of the same color is not allowed. All other rules are as in orthodox chess.

A variant: Auction Transcendental Chess

Auction Transcendental Chess is a variant of Transcendental Chess, where only one game is played, and an `auction' is held for the right to play with some side.

Players can bid to play white or black, and add a number of tempi (that is given to the opponent when the bid is accepted). A tempo is the right, to make, before the game really starts a transposition or a move with a pawn. Still, a player may make only one transposition. So, if a player bids `black, two tempi', and the other player accepts the bid, that other player may make a transposition and a pawn move, or two pawn moves, before making his `real' first move in the game.

Written by Hans Bodlaender, based on information from Variant Chess, and The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants. Thanks to a reader for drawing my attention to Transcendental Chess.
WWW page created: August 18, 1997. Last modified: August 30 2001.