Musketeer Chess uses a panel of 10 different pieces, allows 45 possible piece combinations and 21 different initial piece placements for each combination, resulting in 945 possible start positions, without changing the position of the classic pieces.
Then two "new phases" will follow:
- First Phase: the Piece Selection, where the choice of the additional pieces is decided.
- Once piece selection is finished, the Second Phase begins: the Gating Selection. It is the method that specifies how to introduce the additional pieces. The additional pieces are introduced as follows: once a square on the first rank (or last rank for black) is free after the piece that occupies it moves for the first time, one of the additional pieces can be dropped there. It is a mechanism that is shared with Seirawan chess. The difference between both games is as follows: in Seirawan Chess, the additional pieces are on hand and can be dropped "randomly". In Musketeer Chess, the drop square is known for each piece. Musketeer Chess is then a game sharing with Chess the fact that there is no hidden information.
Phase one - piece selection
Two pieces must be chosen from the current basket of 10 pieces:
- Archbishop (which moves like a knight or a bishop).
- Chancellor (which moves like a knight or a rook).
- Leopard (which moves like a knight or a limited bishop to one or two squares diagonally).
- Musketeer Cannon (different from the Cannon used in Xiangqi moves like a Guard = like a king but can be captured and not subject to checks, or can jump 2 squares orthogonally in any direction like the Dabbaba, or make limited Knight moves to the nearest squares located one line from the current location (example from c5 to a4, a6, e4 or e6)).
- Unicorn (moves like a knight or a Camel making it an extended Knight). Can control a maximum of 16 squares.
- Fortress (moves like a limited bishop to 1,2 or 3 squares, can also jump like a limited knight to the 4 squares located 2 lines from the current location (example from c5 to b3, b7, d3 or d7). Have also additional jumping moves like Dabbaba jumping 2 squares orthogonally in any direction). The Fortress is a very strong piece and can control up to 20 squares.
- Amazon or Dragon is the strongest piece. Moves like knight and Queen.
- Spider. It is an expanded version of the Leopard. It has additional moves like Dabbaba jumping 2 squares orthogonally in any direction. Unlike the Queen, this piece has a limited range but is very difficult to attack making it almost as strong as the Queen. It can also mate a bare king alone.
- Hawk. The rules are different from Seirawan Chess. This piece is a pure jumper. It can jump 2 or 3 squares diagonally or orthogonally in any direction.
- Musketeer Elephant. The rules are different from Seirawan Chess. Can move like a Guard. Have also jumping capabilities: 2 squares in any direction diagonally or orthogonally.
Globally White chooses the first piece. 10 pieces are possible. Let's call this piece W1, B1 is the same Black piece. For example, White choses a Spider. Black will also pick a Spider.
Then it is Black's turn to choose the second piece from the remaining 9 possibilities. Let's call this piece B2, suppose it is an Archbishop. White will automatically pick an Archbishop as his W2 piece. The combination from our previous example is: a Spider (W1/B1) and Archbishop (B2/W2).
Phase two - gating selection
The newly added pieces will be dropped on a square left vacant by a piece that moved for the first time.
These gating squares are not left random and both sides will specify their choice, alternating for each piece.
White starts the selection of the "Gate" for the first piece. Then Black selects the gate for the same piece.
White again chooses the gate for the second piece. Black finishes by selecting the gate for the second piece. The Gating Selection is a figure like waiting in a gate at the airport before boarding.
The additional pieces will be "gated" (dropped) once the piece in the first rank in front of it clears the square for the first time.
Gating Selection is as follows: White begins with W1 piece (Spider in the previous example). Let's chose a concrete case: White decides to "Gate" his Spider after the Bishop f1. When the Bishop-f1 moves for the first time, the Spider will be dropped on the vacated square f1 at the same time. This is a special move involving two pieces.
On the board, the manoeuvrer is performed as follows: white will place his Spider behind the Bishop f1 (in a virtual square f0). On a lettered Chess Board, White will put the Spider near the Bishop f1 on the f letter (this could have been the Rank zero).
It is now Black's turn: Black chooses to gate his Spider on square g8, after the Knight g8 moves for the first time. It is again White's turn to choose the gating square for his second piece, the Archbishop. The procedure is as described for the first piece. The Archbishop cannot be placed in the same square as the Spider, as it is not possible to introduce both additional pieces at the same time. In the shown example, White Archbishop will be introduced on b1 square. It is Black's turn to select the gating square for his Archbishop (d8 square as shown in the diagram).
The game begins
Some additional rules can be learned progressively.
- The combination of additional pieces is a common process, and once white has chosen the first fairy piece, he cannot reject blacks choice concerning the second piece.
Black is the only side that can reject white's choice of the first piece. In that case, the piece combination will be a default combination. This default combination is currently Leopard and Musketeer Cannon. But it can be changed by the tournament director etc. The tournament director can also decide a Thematic tournament for the whole tournament or for each round by imposing the additional combination.
- Musketeer Chess regulations allow choosing from any other combination of fairy or classic pieces.
- Once the additional pieces are placed on the gating squares, the game begins like a regular game of Chess with exactly the same rules, apart from the extra pieces and the gating process that involves playing with two pieces at the same time (one that first moves and the second is dropped in the vacated square).
Once the additional pieces are gated, there are no additional special moves apart from castling.
- Speaking about castling, it is not possible to make a Gate Selection behind both a King and a Rook to avoid introducing both pieces when castling. Gating when castling is possible for only one piece that can be dropped on the square vacated by either the King or a Rook: it is a special move involving three pieces.
- The remaining rules are exactly like in a regular game of Chess.
- Some additional precisions related to the newly added pieces: a pinned piece cannot move and gate.
- If a King is in check and must move, he forfeits the right to gate the piece behind him. Only exception for this rule: if the King can capture the checking piece.
- A pawn can Promote to any Classic piece, and to any of the additional pieces that were selected during the Piece Selection process (even though these pieces were not yet gated, or if their gating rights were forfeited). So we can see as much as 9 Hawks for example, one Hawk that begun the game and was gated and 8 other Hawks after pawn promotion!
- Gating rights are forfeited in some positions: If a piece in the first line is captured before gating the reserve piece. This makes the capture a double capture, removing the captured piece and the reserve piece from the board. A disaster if this happens. We already mentioned gating rights forfeited when the King moves if checked.
Videos are available showing the rules of pieces, and samples of games.
When notating games in algebraic notation, the letter E is used for the Elephant, H for the Hawk, Le for the Leopard, Ca for Cannon, Ar for Archbishop, Ch for Chancellor, Fo for Fortress, U for Unicorn, Sp for Spider and Dr for Dragon or Amazon.
If the player places one of the two pieces on the board, it is written after a slash. For example, 1. Nc3/E means that the player moved his knight from b1 to c3 and gated the elephant on b1.
The inventor of Musketeer Chess is Dr Zied Haddad, a French medical doctor. The choice of Musketeer Chess name refers to Alexandre Dumas novel "The Three Musketeers". The idea first began in 2011, inspiration came from Seirawan's game.
The inventor liked the Elephant and Hawk designs, but disliked the rules of these pieces (move like known pieces Archbishop and Chancellor made popular by Capablanca Chess). The drop mechanism used to introduce these pieces was easy to understand, but gives white a substantial advantage during the opening.
The research work intended to allocate other rules for the Elephant and Hawk, added more pieces with the idea of the Piece Selection phase. The main innovation was the Gating Selection process, a method still based on dropping the additional pieces on free squares but presents the advantage of limiting the White advantage.
The game became commercial in 2014, after he succeeded in designing easy to identify Staunton-compatible pieces. Elephant and Hawk designs were borrowed with courtesy of GM Yasser Seirawan. The piece design was a joint work with Mr Frank A Camaratta, founder of the House of Staunton.
Even though the game is called Musketeer Chess, there is no piece called Musketeer. This piece was invented later and is part of another game: Lutetia Chess. The Musketeer is an "Extended" or "Super" Pawn.
Relative value of the pieces
When Chess is taught, one of the first lessons apart from the rules of the pieces, are relative piece value. The old concept of 1/3/3/5/9 as respective values of pawn, knight, Bishop, Rook and Queen are just a beginning and further work has shown more accurate evaluation.
The approach that was used was based on the work of Grandmaster Larry Kaufman, a known researcher in computer chess, in his article: "Evaluation of Material imbalances". His work was based on analysing millions of Grandmasters' games and used to improve engines Rybka and Komodo.
Results are expressed in centipawns (= 1 point = 100 centipawns).
- Pawn: 100
- Knight: 315
- Bishop: 315
- Bishop Pair Bonus: 50
- Rook: 500
- Queen: 975
The method mentioned by the inventor was not detailed, but was based on a complex mathematical approach. Then these values were refined and validated through thousands of games played by strong computers.
- Leopard: 670, slightly stronger than Knight and Bishop combined. Even though the Bishop moves are restricted to 2 squares.
- Archbishop: 770, globally worth a Pawn more than the Leopard due to extended Bishop abilities. But this is subject to floating depending on the position. This floating could be worth an additional value of half or a full pawn.
- Cannon: 780, slightly less strong than the Archbishop. The Cannon is an excellent piece when playing the endings, especially when it is near the opponent's king. This is one of the “surprises”: the Cannon is stronger than the Elephant. This was almost the only big difference between my “intuition” based on hundreds of my games, many hours testing On The Board and probably more accurate calculations based on thousands of games testing various settings including my assumed relative piece values.
- Chancellor: 820. Worth half a pawn more than the Archbishop. This is especially true in the opening and early middle game, as there are less opened files. The more the game opens, the more it becomes powerful. Chancellor can almost play equal game facing the Queen. Probably worth 925 in the endings.
- Dragon or Amazone: 1250 – 1400. Worth slightly less than the value of the Queen + Knight in the opening as it can easily be attacked by much less powerful pieces. In the ending it is by far the strongest piece and is worth easily the value of Queen + Knight + one or two Pawns. This piece was recently praised as a piece that can help beginners learn chess.
- Unicorn: 560, worth less than two Knights. Stronger in the opening and middle game. Loses value the more pieces are traded.
- Hawk: 550, a favorite piece. Loses value in the ending. A Rook is probably stronger. Rook vs Hawk endings are tricky, probably one of the most tactical ending in Musketeer Chess for relatively equal strength pieces.
- Elephant: 630. Worth a Pawn less than the Cannon. Visually, it can seem more powerful than the Cannon because it has symmetric moves. But in reality, Cannon is more valuable especially in the endings. Elephant is more useful in the first stages of the game because it has a good reach compared to the Cannon. But the Cannon is an excellent defensive and attacking piece. It is a formidable defender and attacker at the same time, especially when it is near the opponent's King.
- Fortress: 780. Slightly inferior to the Archbishop.
- Spider: 835. It is the second strongest piece after the Dragon. Slightly stronger than the Archbishop. Its main weakness is that it can be easily attacked by nearby pieces. This particular feature gives many interesting tactical shots for both sides.
Other authors discussed Musketeer Chess relative piece values. Some of them just gave their impressions without using a clear methodology. Others used various mathematical approaches like Sbiis Sabian. The latter results were quite similar to the results published at Musketeer Chess website.
Musketeer chess engines
Computers helped in the development and validation of certain Musketeer Chess aspects. According to the inventor, thousands of games proved that the game is balanced, with low draw percentage (<10%) and almost equal winning chances for both sides.
Many programmers made engines playing Musketeer Chess. The first was the Jocly team. Jocly used to be a server where many Board Games were playable online. It was a website specialised mostly in Chess, Checkers and their variants. Unfortunately, the administrators shut down the website in 2018 after suffering many hackers' attacks.
The engine that was developed by the Musketeer Chess team is Mandirigma. This was the engine that was used in their computation.
Other projects followed, based mostly on other open source engines: Fairy-Max by HG Muller is available open source and allows to play a big variety of Chess variants, Nebiyu is a private Chess Engine based on Neural Network tachnology and derived from Scorpio an open source engine by Daniel Shawul, Ethereal by Andrew Grant (work in porgress), and Musketeer-Stockfish, an engine based on Stockfish, first released in 2018 by Fabian Fichter. These engines are supported by Winboard, a Graphical User Interface used by the engines to interact with humans, for analysis or matches between engines. Winboard supports all kinds of Chess Variants.
To edit diagrams, a special tool was developed that can be used with many other Chess Variants, Board Painter.
🩎 U+1FA4E WHITE CHESS KNIGHT-QUEEN
🩑 U+1FA51 BLACK CHESS KNIGHT-QUEEN
🩏 U+1FA4F WHITE CHESS KNIGHT-ROOK
🩒 U+1FA52 BLACK CHESS KNIGHT-ROOK
🩐 U+1FA50 WHITE CHESS KNIGHT-BISHOP
🩓 U+1FA53 BLACK CHESS KNIGHT-BISHOP
Comparison with other Chess variants
Musketeer Chess pieces are used in other Chess Variants, some of them are historic like Capablanca chess and Janus Chess. Others are modern variants released after Musketeer Chess, like Infinite Chess, Bulldog Chess, Gemini Chess, etc. A recent book mentions a Musketeer Chess piece, the Amazone, as being very useful in teaching chess, as this simplifies handling and mastering the rules. The author also recommends Musketeer Chess as an alternate game.
Seirawan Chess is a game that inspired Musketeer Chess. The additional pieces are Elephant and Hawk (but moving differently), and these pieces stay on hand before being dropped, which is a hidden element that favors White as the side who begins the game.
Musketeer Chess uses a different drop mechanism that was described above in the rules section. This subtlety helped to level the game with equal winning chances and a low draw percentage according to computer tests (<10%). The draw rate seems to be even lower (<2%) in human vs human games.
Another recent Chess variant is interesting and became more and more popular: Chess960 or Fischer Random Chess, an idea introduced by Bobby Fischer. Musketeer Chess and Fischer random chess share the same ideal: trying to limit the impact of a plethoric and growing opening knowledge seen in professional games nowadays. Fischer's idea was to randomize the starting position according to simple rules (bishops of different colours, etc). This results in 960 different positions, hence the name Chess960.
According to many top Grandmasters, the negative side of Fischer random chess is the lack of harmonious positions, while the positive side was that no theoretical knowledge was necessary (interview of Anatoly Karpov, a previous World Chess champion, conducted in July 1995 during an exhibition match against another strong GM).
Musketeer Chess doesn't disturb the initial placement of the classic pieces, and assumedly preserves the harmony of the position. The additional pieces and the strategy used during the Gating Selection phase is what brings rich and new possibilities to the game. Some of the additional fairy pieces are well known by the Chess Variants fans and Chess problemists, others are novelties. During the game undiscovered tactics and strategies provide a source of ever fresh pleasures and new challenges. The "old opening knowledge" become obsolete, but can still be inspirational. After trading the new pieces, the positions that arise are usually unbalanced leading to sharp games, with low draw percentage.
While Fischer random chess is played using a classic chess set, Musketeer chess needs extra material, which can be a general handicap for widespread development of Chess variants using "unorthodox material" in general. Nowadays, millions of chess games are played online, without need for extra material, apart from a computer or smartphone.
The Musketeer Chess idea (referring to the use of additional pieces) is appealing. The players will focus on elaborating strategies and tactics right from the start, can get inspiration from known openings, but their creativity on the board is the most important element. The additional pieces' range can be extended or changed when needed, granting plenty of possibilities to evolve and adapt when needed, lowering the impact of computers.
A special mention: Musketeer Chess and Fischer Random Chess could be mixed. This results in 960 × 945 possible positions at the start of the game (907 200 unique positions), granting to get rid of opening preparation in Chess.
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