Check on Chess

Chess revisited for the 21st century with new pieces and a new paradigm.

Beyond Black vs White

I have been wondering about chess. Does it imprison us in the ‘Us vs Them’ paradigm? Does it make sacrificing pawns, read people, by kings, read elite, normal? Can we offer some wise twist to the game, igniting our thinking?

Here are some new pieces that can help understand our world better on a chess board. Treat these new pieces as proposals and or research on how to keep chess alive in modern times, and bring new thoughts to the game.

All traditional moves are power moves. They represent all strategies aimed at ‘I win, you lose’. It’s strategic war. Is anything else possible? To live we must step out of that game. And I wondered is this possible in chess itself? Thus I sought to add to the ‘power’ moves, a new kind of moves called ‘life’ moves. And of course, many ‘life’ moves can be (mis)used for strategic purposes. As long as the world plays chess, we’ll be drawn back into that game. But at the least, let’s start considering that life itself has more options than what the ‘game’ seems to offer as normal.

The New Options

Warning: It can be quite challenging, read chaotic, to implement all these proposals at the same time. It also may not make the best game ever. So wisely choosing a selection from here, may bring both inspiring new game play and philosophical debates on essential matters.

Let’s start with some very new power moves:

The Red King.

The Red King is the peoples populist choice of play. Also because it’s better for this world when we realize people are not just pawns. And that if you treat them thus, they can turn against you. Yes: commie, or peoples, revolution.

Any player may place the Red King on the board, once both players have moved at the least seven pieces each. Instead of moving a piece you may place the Red King anywhere on the board, except where it checks another king. The entrance of the Red King means all pawns (black&white) now switch to become your (red) subjects. All pawns can now play in four straight directions, while still taking pieces along the diagonal line. The other player now commandeers all other pieces. When he loses a king through checkmate, he also loses all bigger pieces of the same colour. For beginning players it may be better to remove all bigger pieces from one side immediately.

When a pawn crosses to the other side, they gain a red queen. This can only happen once. After that any pawn reaching the opposite side of the starting position brings two pawns back on the board. Place them at either side of the pawn who reaches the other side.

Note: You may even enter the game as a third player, any moment after the two other players have moved 7 pieces away from their starting position.

Hacker Cubes

Both players get either one, two or three cubes, which they place against the back of their side of the board. By discarding a cube they may go one move of theirs back in time, read: undo a blunder. The beautiful thing is, now more experienced players, may offer beginners an advantage of max three to zero cubes.

The forces of life.

So these are four proposals to have ‘life’ moves in the game.

Just imagine how awesome and relaxing a green tree amidst the black and white would look.


Trees? Yes, trees. Instead of making a move you can plant a tree. There are five trees next to the board and any player can plant them. Is better for the world anyway. What does the tree do? Nothing. It is just a green stand in the way. Yet one can only pass it, by cutting it down, read landing on it and taking it off the board. Long range pieces like rooks and bishops can’t jump over it. If you want to pass you first have to take the tree. This leads to new strategies and sub area’s on the board. The player who plants a third tree in connection with the others, may replace one of the outer trees for one lost piece. Yes, because restoring nature is valuable.

A glass piece, either transparant or UN blue. The Nymdal is an irreverent power deflating role in a book I’m writing. See History of this article at the bottom.

The Fool or Nymdal

Any player can play the fool. Fools break tensions and make peace possible.

Other than all other pieces the fool stands on the crossing of lines like Go stones. What happens when the Nymdal stands somewhere? All neighboring pieces, on the four connecting fields, regardless of colour, cannot strike from their position, not get taken from the board. Only kings are exempt from this rule. They can still strike and be placed check(mate).

The Nymdal can be moved by both players(!), but they may never make the same move backwards. The piece may only be moved up to max 3 steps in all directions, while not jumping over pieces, nor passing in between two pieces who are horizontal or vertical neighbours.

Oh so many small Buddha’s are for sale. Some must fit your chess board.

Battle of the Buddha’s

This time the Kings are replaced by Buddha’s. In this version of the game, called the Peace Negotiation, no pieces are taken of the board at all. Whenever one piece strikes, the stricken piece moves one place backwards or sideways when on the backline. When one team can’t move anymore or it’s king is checkmate it loses the negotiations.

Mind you, either player may replace their Buddha for a real king and back again. Or, exceptionally brave players may play Buddha style, against a player with a king who does take out pieces. Let’s hope he or she reaches ‘enlightenment’ before they murdered all your pieces of the board. ;) This version thus confronts players with winning ‘at the cost of’ versus winning with compassion and consideration for others.

Calvinball is a sport portrayed in the Calvin & Hobbs comic, where they both invent new rules all the time to block new rules of the other player. Yes, it’s crazy.

Calvinball Chess

A whole different ‘ball’ game would be playing Chess Calvinball style. I’ve done it in cafés frustrating serious chess players who observed the game play and couldn’t make sense of it. In Calvinball Chess there are no specific rules, except you have to call out any move as if it is an existing one. Jump start your imagination with calls like: “Queens duel” “Line Up order” “Parachute” “Tower freeze” “Tower Occupy” “Extinction Rebellion” etc. In a way playing artistically in this way, all moves can be experienced as either ‘life’ or ‘power’ on a more subjective and psychological level. How to keep it fun? How to keep the other player involved? How to outdo the other player in inventiveness? And how to alienated any spectator in the most fun and thought provoking way, whether by staying close the to original game or leaving or pretense of that far behind.

Thus also feel free to invent or bring your own new pieces to the game. Note, many new pieces are more of the same kind of thinking: cannons, planes, bombs introducing 21st century warfare to the game. The internet is brimming with new versions of the game. Yet, what besides more ‘power moves’ can you think of?

If you want more or have questions, ask me in the comments.

Have fun!

History of this article: I came to this thinking while writing a still unfinished young adult fantasy (in Dutch). In the story a few of the characters play a forbidden version of chess called Mystraï, that allows these so-called ‘life’ moves. As the powers to be want everyone imprisoned in the ‘us vs them’ mindset, they have made playing this version illegal. In the story the same conflict plays out on the larger scale, ‘winning at the cost of’ versus ‘living to be’. And I think, it is a very essential hidden conflict in our lives too. The struggle against oppression and injustice sometimes obscures the fact that we can’t end conflicts by ‘winning them’. The ‘victory in Iraq’ is still hurting and has led to new conflicts. Yet the news and propaganda machines keep on selling more conflicts to be won, over making our planet hospitable for all by living in support of life. ;)

Note: Be sure to also read the cult classic “Finite & Infinite Games’ by J.P. Carse, free online versions and summaries can be found.

Here’s another and stunningly beautiful chess version born from a similar kind of thinking as the Buddha play version: Pako Sako. And more fun (and explosive) variations can be found here:

And here a whole sport Switchball, founded on very similar principles.




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Floris Koot

Floris Koot

Play Engineer. Social Inventor. Gentle Revolutionary. I always seek new possibilities and increase of love, wisdom and play in the world.

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