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

This page is written by the game's inventor, Charles Gilman.


Charles Gilman


FIVEQUARTERS is an attempt to put a four-player Chess variant on a relatively small board. The key to it is cramming each army onto four of its files, as in John Groeneman's Half Chess. The board comprises five subdivisions, each comprising 4 cells by 4, arranged in a cross. The term CELLS is used here because the groups of sixteen cells, five QUARTERS of the FIDE board, are also 'squares'. The outer quarters are occupied by Red, Orange, Green, and Blue armies in anticlockwise order. They also play in that order. Squares may alternate between either the usual colours with Red and Green Queens on white and the other two on black, or the four player colours with each Queen on her own colour.

Board and Setup

Coordinates are complicated by each being ranks for two players and files for the other two. I distinguish them as LEFTRANKS, ranks from the Red and Green viewpoint and RIGHTRANKS, ranks from that of Orange and Blue. This reflects policies and rosette colours in European politics. The leftranks from Red end to Green are 1, 2, 3, 4, e, f, g, h, 5, 6, 7, 8. The rightranks from Blue end to Orange are 1, 2, 3, 4, a, b, c, d, 5, 6, 7, 8. Note that no cell has two numbers but those in the centre quarter have two (different) letters and no number. Which letter is written first is arbitrary, just as e1 could theoretically be called 1e (here and in FIDE Chess) without ambiguity, both here and on a FIDE board. My preference is for the later letter first, consistent with standard coordinates being in what is usually considered reverse alphanumeric order.

SIMPLE FIVEQUARTERS uses FIDE armies. The 1st rank is RKQR (from each player's left to their right), the 2nd NBBN, and the 3rd and 4th filled with Pawns.

Other Setups

HALF-PAWN FIVEQUARTERS is the same but with an empty 4th rank.

PAWNLESS FIVEQUARTERS is the same but (like the aforementioned Half Chess) with no Pawns.

GREAT FIVEQUARTERS has extra compound pieces but only four Pawns aside, filling the 4th rank. The 1st rank is MQKM, the 2nd CRRC, the 3rd NBBN (where M=Marshal and C=Cardinal).

PAWNLESS GREAT FIVEQUARTERS is the same but with no Pawns, and with a neutral piece at each corner of the central quarter. There solely to stop Bishops being able to capture each other immediatelyhese can be captured but not moved or recruited.


In addition to the FIDE pieces are the MARSHAL, a Rook+Knight compound; the CARDINAL, a Bishop+Knight compound; and the ACE, a Queen+Knight compound. The "Great" versions have the first two in the array, but any not in the array can be acquired by promotion. Pawn promotion occurs on the opposite end rank. Pieces can also gain another elemental move (e.g. Rook to Queen or Marshal) by entering any outer quarter including their own and reaching its end rank either immediately (if they have a Rook move) or on the same player's next move. A further restriction is that no army may exceed two each of Knight, Bishop, Cardinal, Rook, and Marshal, and one each of Queen, King, and Ace.

Fivequarters uses what I term the ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE rule. Pieces cannot move diagonally through the concavities at the corners of the central quarter as they are part of the board's edge. Nor may Knights cross from one outer quarter to another in one move, as even they would pass perilously near the edge. This prevents an initial capturability in all versions but the last.

Pawns starting on the third rank have an initial double move but those on the fourth do not. Pawns can only move within the 12x4 rectangle in which they start. Pawns can capture opposite-colour Pawns En Passant, but not adjacent-colour ones. As in most of my 3d and/or 4-player variants, there is no castling.

A player is checkmated when their King is threatened by the player ABOUT TO MOVE. Checkmated armies are removed from the board in their entirety and play continues with no loss of turn by remaining players.


The player-specific Rivers of 125% Xiang Qi can be added to produce a cross between Fivequarters and Anglis Qi. This means that Aces, Kings, and Queens cannot enter enemy quarters but can capture and/or check each other in the central quarter. Indeed a King on its own fourh rank can check an adjacent enemy King across the River, reminiscent of Caliph Qi. A new Queen or Ace could then be achieved only through a piece returning to its own quarter.

Another subvariant replaces the complex prommotion rules with the Bishogi promtion and reintroduction rules can be used, with promotion occurring on entering an enemy quarter. This would be to normal Bishogi what 125% Shogi is to standard Shogi.

CONFERENCE CHESS combines Fivequarters with a feature of several variants using the FIDE board and array. Shortly after returning from a political conference (in the English coastal city of Brighton, a popular resort and conference venue) I first saw the 2-player variants Compromise Chess, Choice Chess, and Refusal Chess. It struck me that conferences were all about delegates making a long series of choices between options presented to them, but that a minority could be outvoted by a majority. Sometimes one choice influences later ones. This lent itself to a 4-player variant, in which 2 of a player's 3 opponents can outvote the third. In Conference Chess any Fivequarters array is used (probably best to use one with fewer than 16 pieces aside) and each player proposes two alternative moves valid in Fivequarters. The three opponents vote on which move the proposer plays, and whichever has at least two votes is made. Once a player has moved, the next player proposes two moves from the new position.

Another subvariant is a three-player handicap game, with (much) the weakest player controlling two armies, each removed when its own King is checkmated. A further development of this idea is a 3-player version of Robert Price's Fellowship of the Ring. One player controls Red (representing the North and initially holding the Ring) AND Green (Gondor), one controls Orange (Isengard), and one controls Blue (Mordor). Orange and Blue Ringbearers are enhanced. Red and Green ones move one square from the Red/Orange/Green quarters toward the middle quarter, and thence toward the Blue quarter.


Take your pick of physical representations. Versions starting without Knight compounds can use two FIDE sets, distinguishable or painted to match the terminology, with the usual improvisations on promotion. For "Great" versions it may be worth painting two sets EACH of two sizes. Pawnless Great Fivequarters is among the variants most suited (the suits replacing the piece colours!) to cards, on a basis of adding powers of 2: 1=King's side, 2=Knight move, 4=diagonal, 8=orthogonal. Thus Queens, Kings, and Aces are represented by cards of the same names! The best pack is one with four Jokers, for the neutral pieces.

Written by Charles Gilman.
WWW page created: September 3rd, 2003.