Christmas puzzles: no checks please!

by Frederic Friedel
12/25/2020 – Do you know how many chess variants there are? In 1994 David Pritchard counted 1,450. Many are complex and require long explanations of the rules. Here's a variant that takes just a few seconds to explain, but completely changes the spirit of the game: Checkless Chess! Try it over the holiday season with friends – or solve a few brain-numbing puzzles. A Merry Christmas to all our readers!

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I have always been interested in variants of chess – like so many others. In 1994 David Pritchard, president of the British Chess Variants Society, described 1,450 of them in his Encyclopedia of Chess Variants. In the quarter of a century since then probably hundreds more have been invented. I particularly liked variants which had rules you could explain in just a few seconds before you started playing first games. Former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik recently proposed some (which are described in the index below) that fulfilled this criterion. For instance when we asked young (GM-strength) talents to play a tournament in one of the Kramnik-Variants we required five seconds to explain everything it to them: "There is no castling!" After that they could start playing.

One variant I really enjoyed, in my early twenties, was Checkless Chess. The variant takes ten seconds to explain: checks are illegal, unless it's checkmate.

Actually there is one important point you may need to clarify: you cannot make a checking move, even if it would stop the opponent's mate. Take for instance this diagram.

First of all White (to play) cannot capture the rook, because that is a check but not checkmate. So the black king is "defending" the rook. White cannot move his queen to h6, or to the squares e8, c5, f5 or f3, because they are all illegal checks.

But he can play Qf7#! Black cannot recapture because that would put the white king into check without mating him. And that is illegal. So Black is mated. We can say that the black king was pinned!

It is amazing how this very simple rule change – no checks unless they are mate – can so radically change the game. Suddenly the king is no longer a cowardly piece, slinking away into a castled fortress. It becomes a powerful attacker that can immobilize a large cluster of enemy pieces, defending its own men from a distance, pinning enemy men. Of course, it is a kamikaze attacker who can suddenly be dealt a fatal blow. You tie up the opponents pieces, making it difficult for him to find a constructive move; and then suddenly you are mated, almost out of the blue.

I became quite good at this game, and was admired by players of all strengths. On one occasion I won three games against a (slightly inebriated) International Master, who is today a GM. He told me he thought I had exceptional chess talent. That was hardly the case. I never substantially exceeded 1900 Elo. In fact I had given up chess at the age of 19, understanding that I did not possess the special chess brain required to achieve even modest success.

So why was I so good at Checkless Chess? Because I had practiced. I had played many games, while my opponents were usually trying it for the first time. And this is my (somewhat dubious) point: if you are not that good at chess, and do not see yourself becoming a master in the foreseeable future, learn a variant like Checkless and excel in it. You are basically a master play amateurs, even if they wear international titles.

Unfortunately I can't show you games – I never recorded any I played decades ago. If you are really keen to see some you can google "checkless chess games". There are some YouTube videos. But what fascinated me were also problems and puzzles, because they required thinking outside the box. Here's something to help you understand the variant:

Checkless Chess – Helpmate in two

In a helpmate Black moves first and helps White to mate him. The above positions will give you an idea of how CC works. In the first diagram Black underpromotes to a rook: 1.d1=R. White takes a queen: 1...a8=Q. And now comes the unusual mate: 2.Rf1 Qg2#. The black king cannot capture the queen or move to the e-file because that would expose the white king to a discovered check, which is illegal. So White has delivered a legal mate. Note that Black had to underpromote to a rook on his first move, because with a queen on f1 the white move 2...Qg2 would be illegal, since it is not mate (Black can play Qf1xg2, which is not a check).

I apologise for the very simple problem and the elementary explanation. CC takes some getting used to. But now it is your turn: try to solve the second position in the same vein. This twin was composed in 1963 by T. Steudel, B. Rehm and A.H. Kniest. It is quite clever.

Now that you know how Checkless Chess works, here a problem by one of the most entertaining composers in history:


In the above diagram you can move the pieces on the board to work out a solution

Perhaps you have now understood the rule that a move that would normally avert a mate can be illegal if it is an illegal check that does not itself deliver mate. If you feel you have, then you can attempt the following fairly athletic problem:


Here you may think: how about 1.Kc2? But that is illegal, because it is not mate (Black can defend with 1...Bd2 – but not with 1...Bxd1+, which is an illegal check since it does not mate White. Similarly 1.Kc3 is illegal because Black can defend with 1...Bxd1 (this time not with 1...Bd2+, which is a check but not mate). Bearing this in mind you may be able to solve the problem. But beware: your brain may start to ache. I will publish all solutions here after the Christmas holidays.

All solutions to our Christmas puzzles will be published on January 1st. In the meantime please tell us if you have any experience playing Checkless Chess games.  

Previous ChessBase articles on variants

Vladimir Kramnik proposes an exciting chess variant!
12/9/2019 – From lay fans to top grandmasters, more or less everyone in the world of chess feels upset today about the significant number of draws that take place in virtually every classical elite tournament. Too much theory reinforced by extensive engine work is seemingly rendering the game of chess sterile and lifeless. One alternative is Chess960 and FIDE sanctioned the first Fischer Random World Championship this year. Recently the legendary Vladimir Kramnik has also proposed a solution to the problem that is simpler and more efficient than the Fischer Random, and which he believes will ensure more than 50% decisive games in top-level play.

AlphaZero/Kramnik: Exploring new chess variants
9/10/2020 – Modifying the existing rules for chess, attempting to make it more dynamic or decisive, is a non-trivial task: You need years of experience and large numbers of people playing new versions in order to assess the quality and appeal of any new variant. Former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik has proposed nine new variants, and DeepMind has used their AI technology to evaluate them in a much shorter period of time. Here are their findings.

AlphaZero/Kramnik: More variants
9/30/2020 – Modifying the existing rules for chess to make it more dynamic or decisive, is a non-trivial task: you need years of experience and large numbers of people playing new versions in order to assess the quality and appeal of any new variant. Former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik has proposed new variants, and DeepMind has used their AI technology to evaluate them in a much shorter period of time. Here are their findings for No-castling, Pawn one square and Stalemate=win chess.

AlphaZero/Kramnik: Torpedo pawns
10/9/2020 – Modifying the existing rules for chess to make it more dynamic or decisive, needs years of experience and a large numbers of games if we are to assess the quality and appeal of any new variant. The company DeepMind has used their AI technology to evaluate nine variants proposed by former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik in a much shorter period of time. Here are their findings for "Torpedo Chess", where pawns can move two squares forward from anywhere. 

First ever "no-castling" tournament results in 89% decisive games!
1/19/2020 – All the rules of chess remain the same, just that both the players cannot castle. How does removing this one rule alter the game? Well, we decided to put this idea to test by getting 13 of the strongest Indian youngsters (average Elo: 2457) and holding the first ever No-Castling chess tournament at the Microsense Kramnik Gelfand Training camp in Chennai. Check out all the games, videos, analysis by IM SAGAR SHAH and some brilliant photos by Amruta Mokal.

Chess Variants: Entertaining, fun, instructive
4/14/2020 – Classical chess is fine and fun. However, variety might add some spice to your chess life. Which is why Dagne Ciuksyte enjoys chess variants. They are fun, they are surprinsingly instructive and they help your classical chess. Here are some chess variants you might want to try.

Chogue - half chess, half rogue
5/7/2020 – Pippin Barr and Jonathan Lessard are the makers of the unique chess variant "Chogue". It combines the normal chess game with a rogue-like theme. After you have played your first move with the white pieces, the black king escapes into a deep dungeon, where you have to follow and check-mate him. We had a chance to interview the makers about their game idea, intention and future projects.

What on Earth is 5D chess?
7/31/2020 – Just last week a new chess game launched on the Steam client — 5D chess. The term 3D stands for third dimension, while 4D includes “time” plus the three spatial dimensions. 5D chess boldly claims to go even beyond that as it mixes chess, as we know it, with a multiverse time-travel function. And this is where my mind starts to go a bit crazy! | Photos: 5D Chess press kit 

Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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