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Crazy Elephant (chess variant)

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been playing a lot of correspondence chess over the last couple years at SchemingMind.com. One of the great things about SchemingMind is the range of chess variants you can play there. Indeed, as I mentioned in the previous post, I first joined the site in order to try playing Shatranj, the medieval predecessor of modern chess. However, you can also discuss and request established or newly invented variants for inclusion on the site. Of course, a lot depends on technical considerations (e.g. only games played on an 8×8 board are currently available), the time needed to programme and set them up, or the playability of the game itself.

One idea I came up with was Crazy Elephant. Like a lot of variants, this didn’t take a whole load of original thought but is instead a blend of two other variants, in this case one ancient and one modern. The first variant is Shatranj, as mentioned above. This is often seen as slow, especially in the opening: the reforms that transformed it into modern chess largely address this one criticism: bishops instead of the two-square-jumping elephants; the queens with combined rook+bishop movement instead of the limited fers moving only one-square diagonally; the initial two-square pawn move, etc. The elephant in particular can seem especially weak as it can only move to 1/8 of the squares of the board.

The other variant is Crazyhouse, a one player version of a more established game called Bughouse. In this game, pieces that are captured can be dropped back onto the board by the capturing player as their own. It is also sometimes called Chessgi in allusion to the Japanese variation on chess, Shogi, which has a similar rule. By contrast with Shatranj, this is often seen as aggressive, if not too much so. Knights are particularly valuable in Crazyhouse as they can be dropped into crowded positions and cannot be defended against by dropping a piece to block them.

I’d always wondered what some of the modern chess variants would be like if the principles underlying them were transferred to some of the historical (e.g. Shatranj) or regional (e.g. Makruk) variants. I thought a combination of Shatranj and Crazyhouse in particular might work well because there are two jumping pieces in Shatranj: the knight and the elephant. The drops also give the restricted elephant scope to appear anywhere on the board. Having played the game, the opening is also a lot sharper than Shatranj, partly due to the power of dropped pawns on the 7th rank which is a lot weaker in Shatranj than standard chess: as soon as one pawn is exchanged the whole board is essentially open. I like to think Crazy Elephant sharpens Shatranj and tames Crazyhouse.

Austin, who runs SchemingMind, kindly agreed to set the game up on the site and after a test tournament, it is now one of the regularly played variants on there. I prepared a description for the site with rules etc., and amended it for submission to the the Chess Variants Pages site, although they haven’t added it yet for whatever reason. The amended version, without images and with a few other minor tweaks, is given below:

Crazy Elephant

Introduction

Crazy Elephant is a variant of Shatranj where players can drop captured pieces as in CrazyHouse. This variant was invented by Thomas Meehan and was implemented at SchemingMind.com in December 2009.

Setup

The initial setup of the board is identical to standard chess, with with Alfils (elephants) replacing Bishops and the Firzan replacing the Queen. The King always starts on the e file with the Firzan on the d file. This is unlike Shatranj where the position of the King and Firzan are interchangeable as long as the two Kings face eachother.

Pieces

Like Shatranj, Crazy Elephant is played with a slightly different set of pieces to standard chess, in particular with Alfils (elephants) replacing Bishops and Firzans replacing Queens:

  • Shah (king) moves as in standard chess
  • Rukh (rook) moves as in standard chess
  • Faras (knight) moves as in standard chess
  • Baidaq (pawn) moves as in standard chess
  • Firzan (queen) moves to the first diagonal square
  • Alfil (elephant, bishop) leaps to the second diagonal square, never occupying the first diagonal

Rules

The rules of Crazy Elephant are similar to standard chess, with the following exceptions:

Movement

  • There is no initial two-step Pawn move
  • There is no en passant capture option
  • There is no castling option

Promotion

  • Pawns arriving at the last rank always promote to Firzans

Winning and Drawing

  • Stalemate counts as a win
  • Bare King counts as a win, provided that your King cannot be bared on the very next move
  • Two bare Kings count as a draw

Dropping Captured Pieces

  • Pieces you capture become yours to use as you wish on a future turn (and vice versa for your opponent). You can “drop” them anywhere on the board including checking the King. Pawns cannot be dropped on the 1st or 8th rank, and if a promoted pawn is captured, it reverts back to a Pawn.

Notes

The bare kings rules can produce unexpected results for those familiar with Crazyhouse.

Playing Tips

Play is generally quicker than Shatranj but slower than CrazyHouse. Winning attacks take longer to plan and execute than CrazyHouse, hindered by the generally less powerful pieces but aided by the inability of the opponent’s King to castle into protection.

Alfils are more powerful than in Shatranj. As they can jump, they can act like knights in CrazyHouse which can force a king to move when checked.

Be aware of forks from dropped pawns, especially on the 2nd and 7th ranks. Squares b2, g2, b7, and g7 are particularly susceptible to attack if the appropriate Rook and Alfil have not moved; if the Knight between them and the pawn in front of the Rook has not moved, then the Rook can be easily lost with no compensation.

Computer Play

You can play Crazy Elephant on the online correspondence chess site SchemingMind.com

Sample Game

The @ symbol is used to denote drops, as is conventional in CrazyHouse:

1. c3 e6 2. f3 d6 3. d3 d5 4. c4 dxc4 5. dxc4 Ba6 6. c5 Nd7 7. P@d4 Bh6 8. Nd2 Bf4 9. Ne4 Ngf6 10. e3 Bh6 11. Ba3 Nxe4 12. fxe4 Nf6 13. e5 Nd5 14. Qe2 Nxe3 15. Rc1 Nxg2+ 16. Kf2 Nf4 17. Nh3 Nxh3+ 18. Bxh3 N@c4 19. b3 Nxa3 20. Rhg1 Rg8 21. N@h5 N@f4 22. Rxg7 Rxg7 23. Nxg7+ Kf8 24. P@f6 Nxh3+ 25. Kg3 Kg8 26. R@e8+ B@f8 27. Kxh3 c6 28. N@c7 Rc8 29. Ncxe6 fxe6 30. Rxe6 N@f4+ 31. Kg4 Nxe6 32. Kh5 Nxg7+ 33. fxg7 Kxg7 34. P@f6+ Kf7 35. N@g5+ Ke8 36. P@e6 N@f4+ 37. Kg4 P@f5+ 38. Kf3 P@e4+ 39. Ke3 Nd5+ 40. Kf2 P@e3+ 41. Kg3 P@f4+ 42. Kg2 R@f2+ 43. Kh3 Rxh2+ 44. Kxh2 P@g3+ 45. Kg1 Qe7 46. f7+ Kd8 47. R@d7#

I should also point out that I’m very good at it though.

Chess

One of the many reasons I don’t post on this weblog as much as I used to is that I have discovered online correspondence chess. My brother and I had always toyed with the idea of playing correspondence chess (CC) by email but never got round to it. This was a shame as the only chess I had really played was with my brother and dad at home as a child, as well as a few games against someone at university. I never really studied chess or was that good at it. I also seem to be rarely around people who want to play.

A few years ago, when the curse of Facebook had visited, I started playing on there against Simon, a friend from school who had moved to the West Country after GCSEs, who I haven’t seen since as much as I would like to have done. Online CC, as opposed to email CC, is a lot easier as you don’t have to have a board set up somewhere,  record all the moves, or bully your opponent not to take too long. We had some good games on Facebook (the chess application is, to be honest, quite good too, although I don’t use it anymore) and I got more interested in chess. Reading around, I got intrigued by the game of Shatranj, which I had vaguely heard of. Shatranj is the medieval ancestor of modern chess: it doesn’t, for instance, have queens or bishops, en passant or castling. I eventually found a few sites where you could play it and thought it worth a go.

By far the most promising was SchemingMind, mainly because it looked a calm non-profit site with no adverts or pop-ups, and friendly people, which it has proved to be. I didn’t get hooked on shatranj too much in the end, but I did get hooked on the site which includes standard chess as well as a lot of different variants. As you can probably tell, I would really recommend the site. I managed to persuade Simon to move our games there- we are now on game no. 11 on SchemingMind, not counting the games we played on Facebook- and my brother and I are also now finally playing some decent games of chess after a long hiatus. Hooray. I think it’s his move.

Let me know if you want a game…