Chess Oddities

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At the risk of losing those of you who don’t play chess at all, I’d like to discuss–briefly!–a few chess oddities. These strange rules were still in force during the 19th century. Is it any wonder I love 19th-century chess?

In chess as we know it, if you can succeed in marching a pawn all the way to the opposite end of the board, you can promote your pawn into a more powerful piece–usually a queen, because the queen is the most powerful piece in the game. You can also promote to a lesser piece, if you can find some reason to.

But once upon a time, you could 1) promote your pawn into a second king, or 2) allow it to remain a pawn, which seems hardly worth doing, or 3) even promote it to a piece of your opponent’s color: like, you can turn your white pawn into a black rook.

None of those weird options is allowed anymore. I say, Too bad!

True, you were never allowed to promote a pawn into a piece used in a game other than chess: turn it into a checker, a Monopoly token, or Col. Mustard from a game of Clue. I think this restriction has cost chess players a certain amount of fun.

The reasons for doing any of The Three Weird Things (now it sounds like a story by Lord Dunsany!) were real, but to explain them would oblige me to go into technicalities of no interest to anyone but a chess fanatic with a penchant for thinking outside the box.

But confound it–if you can’t do something just for fun in a game, where can you do it?

Sometimes chess players do take themselves too seriously.

9 comments on “Chess Oddities

  1. I know how to play chess, although I don’t play anymore. But I do not get why anyone would want to use any of the three 19th century options that are not available today. Maybe way back in India, Persia, and the Ottoman Empire that had other quaint little rules to make the game more fun.

    1. Very rarely, there are positions wherein promoting the pawn to any piece would cause a stalemate. Promoting it to Col. Mustard would launch a murder inquiry.

  2. If the pawn were promoted to a second king, would you have to checkmate both to win the game? I like the sound of that.

    1. The rule said you needed to checkmate only one king. In Obannese chess you can promote a pawn to a “prince,” who becomes king if your original king is mated.

    1. Since it’s no longer allowed by the rules, you don’t have much to worry about. The purpose of allowing such promotions was to insure against a stalemate. For example, you may promote a pawn to an opposite-color piece to clog up the enemy king’s only escape square. This was considered poor sportsmanship.

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