Chess Variants: From Chess960 to Crazyhouse

Chess Variants: From Chess960 to Crazyhouse

As one of the oldest and most played strategic board games in the world, chess has fascinated and challenged generations of players. It has impressed kings, shaped society, influenced politics, and fascinated people. Today, chess is still extremely popular and has even gained in popularity due to modern technical possibilities.

Moreover, the unwavering passion for this game has always inspired chess lovers to develop a variety of variants that present the game in exciting and unconventional forms. The reasons for the creation of new chess variants are many. Some players were looking for new strategic challenges that went beyond the established opening theories of traditional chess. Others were looking for ways to increase the influence of chance or to speed up the pace of play. Sometimes chess variants were also developed as a means of training chess players to develop certain skills such as creativity, speed, or tactical acuity.

The real boom in chess variants began in the 20th century. A driving force behind this development was the desire to bypass opening theory and create new opportunities for creative and innovative moves. Chess was to begin virtually directly in the middlegame and immediately challenge the tactical skills of the players. A great advocate for new game variants was Bobby Fischer, who even developed his own variant, Chess960.

Although none of the variants reached the popularity of the original, they do provide an entertaining alternative. In the following I would like to give an overview of famous chess variants and take a closer look at the rules as well as the game structure.


Chess960 (Fischer Random Chess)

Chess960, also known as Fischer-Random-Chess, is a chess variant introduced by former world chess champion Bobby Fischer. Fischer was frustrated by the growing importance of opening theory in traditional chess and the associated memorization of move sequences. With Chess960, he wanted to encourage strategic thinking and creativity in the players from the very beginning. The special feature of this variant is therefore the random game setup at the beginning of each game, which offers the players a new challenge and reduces the memorization of opening theories.

Starting position of a game of Chess960

Starting position of a game of Chess960.
The king is placed between the rooks and the bishops on differently colored chess squares.

The game setup in Chess960 follows set rules to ensure a balanced and playable starting position. There are a total of 960 possible starting positions, with the position of the chess pieces in the basic row varying, while the pawns remain in their usual starting position. The only restrictions are that the king must always be between the rooks and the bishops on different colored chess squares. Each starting position is determined by a random number generator before each game. Players do not know which position their chess pieces will occupy until immediately before the game begins. This requires players to immediately adjust their strategies and tactical plans, since they cannot fall back on previously learned opening variations.

The basic rules of Chess960 are identical to the rules of traditional chess. Each player takes turns moving his pieces to attack the opponent's king and checkmate him. This goal achievement thus still requires putting the opponent's king in a situation where it is threatened and cannot escape.

Fischer's contribution to this variation led to increased attention and popularity for alternative chess rules and chess variations. Chess960 or Fischer Random Chess is now appreciated by many players around the world and is even played in international chess tournaments.


Horde Chess

Horde chess is a chess variant in which the game structure and rules are very different from traditional chess. It was invented in 1942 by Edward Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, but is played today with a slightly modified pawn structure. In this variant, the black player defends himself with the traditional chess pieces against a "horde" of white pawns.

Starting position of a game of Horde Chess

The black player is confronted with a horde of white pawns.


Rules of Horde Chess for Black:

  • Chess pieces used: eight pawns, two rooks, two knights and two bishops, the queen and the king to be protected.
  • The typical placement of all chess pieces is made.
  • Black loses when his king is checkmated.

Rules of Horde Chess for White:

  • White has 36 pawns
  • The pawns occupy rows one through four.
  • In addition, there are white pawns on the b5, c5 and f5 and g5 chess squares.
  • On rows one and two, the white pawns may always make a double move.
  • White loses the game when all his chess pieces have been captured.
  • White starts the game.

Apart from the specific rules for each player, all the usual rules of chess apply. Since White has no king, Black must capture all of White's pawns and converted chess pieces.

Horde Chess is a very popular game variant and is offered on popular chess websites, including and


Atomic Chess

The game variant Atomic Chess basically plays like the standard variant of chess. However, there are supplementary rules that simulate an atomic threat. For this, attacks on opposing chess pieces are represented as explosions, which have an influence on neighboring chess squares. This game variant was offered for the first time in 1995 on the German Internet Chess Server (GICS) and gained international fame less than five years later.

Capturing a chess piece in atomic chess

White captures a pawn with his bishop.
Both knight and bishop are taken from the chessboard.
The pawns remain.


Rules in Atomic Chess:

  • Striking a chess piece triggers an "atomic explosion" which takes both the struck and the striking chess piece out of play.
  • All eight adjacent chess pieces are removed from the chessboard.
  • Pawns are not affected by the explosion, but when attacked also trigger an explosion and are then removed from the game.
  • En passer triggers an explosion on the attacked chess square.
  • A king may not trigger an explosion and therefore may not capture.
  • Since kings do not capture and are only threatened directly by an attack or indirectly by an explosion, the players' two kings may move side by side.
  • The game is won by capturing the opponent's king with an explosion or immobilizing it with a queen.

Atomic Chess was not the first chess variant to integrate bombs into the game. As early as 1972, Robert Montay-Marsais invented "Stratomic," a variant on a 10x10 chess board that granted both players two tactical atomic bombs each as additional chess pieces. In 1992, Jim Winslow invented "Beirut Chess," which allowed both players to secretly mark a chess piece as a bomb. However, the tasteless parallel to suicide bombers ensured only limited popularity.


King of the Hill

"King of the Hill" is a chess variant that focuses on conquest by the king. Instead of aiming to checkmate the opponent's king, the goal is to bring your own king to the center of the chessboard. This variation requires strategic thinking, tactical skill, and the ability to protect your own king while trying to threaten your opponent's king.

Chess squares that must be reached by the king in King of the Hill

The four central chess squares must be reached by the king to win the game.


RuleS of King of the Hill:

  • The game is played on the conventional chess board with 64 chess squares. The initial position of the chess pieces is the same as in traditional chess.
  • The goal is to move your king to one of the four central chess squares (d4, d5,e4 and e5) while preventing the opponent's king from reaching them.
  • The move rules for the individual chess pieces correspond to those of traditional chess.

Victory Conditions of "King of the Hill":

  • A player successfully moves his king to one of the central chess squares.
  • If a player threatens the opponent's king so that it cannot reach the central chess squares, that player wins the game.
  • When a player checkmates the opponent's king.

Compared to many other chess variants, "King of the Hill" can be played without additional chess pieces on a normal chess board. The active use of the king as a victory condition creates a dynamic early on in this variant that promotes and challenges tactical skills. Popular chess portals offer "King of the Hill" on their platforms for online games.


Loosing Chess (Antichess)

Loosing Chess, often called "suicide", simply reverses the rules of classical chess. The player who has no more chess pieces on the chessboard wins. However, the rules have to be adapted to avoid a too passive way of playing:

  • It is obligatory to capture chess pieces if the possibility exists.
  • If more than one chess piece can be captured, the attacker has the right to choose.
  • The king has no special status and can be moved and captured normally.
  • Pawns can also be converted into kings on the back rank.
  • Castling may not be used in this variation.
  • If a player's chess pieces are immobilized, there are several possibilities:
    a) The player who can no longer make a move has won.
    b) The game is finished and is considered a draw.
    c) The player with fewer chess pieces on the chessboard wins.
    d) The player who cannot move a chess piece is eliminated.
    e) A draw also takes place according to the common chess rules, as far as they are applicable.

Markt Watkins proved in 2016 at the University of Sydney that Black wins with certainty under perfect playing conditions. Under perfect conditions, Black can have all his chess pieces removed from the chessboard after only 17 moves. This chess variant has been known since 1870 and was invented by the German chess player Richard Schurig.



Crazyhouse, also known as Drop Chess, is another variant of chess with a special rule: when a player captures one of his opponent's chess pieces, he gets this chess piece in his own color and can insert it anywhere on the board according to the chess rules. The basic rules of chess still apply in Crazyhouse. However, there are some additional rules that add an exciting dynamic to the game:

  • Chess pieces that are captured are collected in the opposite color in a "pool".
  • Instead of making a normal chess move, a player can take a chess piece from the pool and place it on a chess square.
  • Placed chess pieces must always be placed on empty chess squares.
  • Chess pieces inserted from the "pool" may immediately provide check or even result in checkmate, as if they had been moved onto the chess square from any other position.
  • Pawns must not be placed in the first or eighth row, so as not to jeopardize an immediate conversion to a queen and thus the balance of the game.

Game situation in Crazyhouse

Unusual, but in Crazyhouse typical setup in a game.
White has an additional captured knight.

The possibility of reinstating captured chess pieces opens up new tactical possibilities and unpredictable turns in the course of the game. In addition, the tactical element remains at a very high level, since the chess board does not empty as quickly as it does in traditional chess. A related chess variant to Crazyhouse is the so-called tandem chess, in which two teams of two compete against each other and captured chess pieces are passed on to the team partner for further use.



Even though traditional chess already offers a great challenge, the chess variants that deviate from it are a welcome change. With new rules and objectives, players are encouraged to adapt their tactical understanding and muster a new kind of creativity. In particular, Chess960 or Fischer Random Chess offers an excellent opportunity to strengthen one's tactical skills and enter a middlegame immediately at the beginning of the game. However, chess variants are also criticized by famous chess players, as normal chess could be unlearned. For example, the Armenian chess grandmaster Lewon Aronjan noted that especially beginners could neglect the actual challenges in chess and not develop their positional play well due to strongly modified rule variants.


I would be glad if I could inspire you for one of the chess variants presented here. If you have any further questions, feel free to write me via my contact form. Besides the computer, playing chess on a real chess board is still popular. If you are interested in chess pieces or chessboards in tournament format, please have a look at my assortment.

I wish you a lot of fun with the game, much success and rapid progress in learning.


See you soon.


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