"HOSTAGE CHESS" AND ITS ORIGINS IN JAPANESE "SHOGI"
An introduction by John Leslie
More articles in VC Vol4 (iss 32), Vol 5 (iss 35,36,37,38,39), Vol 6 (iss 46,48)
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"SHOGI" is chess as played in Japan, where it is immensely popular.
Millions play it, and top professionals become millionaires. What makes it so exhilarating is
that its chessmen change sides when they are captured.Shaped like spearheads, they turn so as
to attack their former allies and parachute back onto the board. Games that end in draws are
What about "CHESSGI", then, which adds the Japanese rule about changing sides to the normal
western game? Unfortunately chessgi has too much violence, too little strategy. This is because
western chessmen tend to be more powerful than shogi ones and there are fewer of them on the board.
In chessgi, therefore, the capture of a piece, which can at once start fighting its old comrades,
typically amounts to a brutal change in the strengths of the battling armies. Also chessgi is played
with an additional boxful of chessmen so that captives can (so to speak) change color when they change
sides. Putting, for instance, a black piece into the second box, you take out a white one. Well, this
may be better than having to cover the black piece with white paint, yet it leads to a lot of confusion.
"HOSTAGE CHESS" gets around these problems. Here, captives are at first merely imprisoned, "held hostage".
They become paratroopers only after being exchanged for hostages from the enemy prison. Although exchanges can
never be refused, the initiator of an exchange must give "equal or higher value" so that there are fewer
ultra-fast alterations to the balance of power. Gone, too, is the need for a second boxful of chessmen.
It is to this game, not chessgi, that chessmaster D.B.Pritchard gives a chapter of his "Popular Chess Variants"
(B.T.Batsford: London, 2000) before going on to describe shogi itself. The two games play very similarly.
For instance, both tend to end in long sequences of checks. And, like the Japanese game, hostage chess often
leads into forests so thick that nobody can see through them. This means that even quite a weak player can have
exciting chances against an expert.
RULES OF "HOSTAGE CHESS":
Normal rules of western chess, except these:
- Each player owns two areas beside the board: a prison for "hostages" (captured men) near the player's
right hand, and an airfield near the left hand. [Just place prisoners beside the board. For the airfields,
it's best to use beer-mats, saucers or plates.]
Remember, you must parachute the rescued man at the time that you rescue it. In contrast, a man entering your
own airfield will wait there until you decide to use it as a paratrooper.]
In each turn you do just one of three things. You:
[..Values run from PAWN upwards to
KNIGHT OR BISHOP, then ROOK, then QUEEN. So, for example, by pushing a knight from your prison into the
enemy airfield you can forcibly rescue a knight, bishop or pawn from the enemy prison: there is no need to
get your opponent's permission before making this exchange of hostages.
- move normally,
- "make a hostage exchange", which means rescuing a man from your opponent's prison by pushing
one OF EQUAL OR HIGHER VALUE forward from your prison into your opponent's airfield, then immediately
parachuting the rescued man onto an empty square,
- parachute a man from your airfield onto an empty square.
- Pawns cannot parachute onto first or eighth ranks, but parachuting can place your bishops on squares of
the same color. Pawn jumps from the second rank, and acts of castling, can involve parachuted men regardless
of their positions or movements before they became hostages.
- A pawn one step from its promotion square cannot move forward unless it
then at once promotes BY CHANGING PLACES WITH A QUEEN, ROOK, BISHOP OR KNIGHT IN THE ENEMY PRISON.
Until the prison contains such a piece, the pawn cannot even give check or attack a square so as to prevent
[Note: Suppose such a pawn is diagonally ahead of your king but doesn't yet attack it because your
prison contains no piece to which the pawn could be promoted. You now couldn't legally capture such a piece.
It would be putting yourself into check.]
- Attack! The choice, particularly when you are the weaker player, is often between playing aggressively
and losing quickly.
- Men capable of parachuting (often called "dropping") are very powerful. Don't use up your store
of them to score minor successes on the board! When you have three or more men on your airfield, look for
a checkmate. It may well come at the end of a series of "drops" whose length is constantly extended with the help of new captures, new hostage exchanges. Often you won't be able to see all the way to the end of the series, but attack all the same. Like shogi, hostage chess calls for intuition more than for brute calculation.
- Although a bishop can parachute onto any empty square regardless of color, parachutable knights
are even more dangerous because they can fork so devastatingly.
- If your opponent has hostages waiting
to be exchanged for something, think before grabbing even a pawn. It could be
the something. It could parachute back, mating you.
- Consider forcing your opponent to capture a man so that you can then rescue and drop it.
- When the enemy queen is in your prison, your own queen can often attack outrageously. Dare your
opponent to take it, after which you can exchange queens and be the first to drop one. This could give
you a decisive advantage.
- Always consider "exchanging downwards", perhaps even releasing an imprisoned queen to rescue a
mere bishop which you then drop with deadly effect.
- Drop pawns to break up castled positions, or to reinforce them.. Drop them to fork or to entrap:
two successive pawn drops can often win an unwary bishop. Drop them to close or to open up lines of attack,
or to force enemy pieces to capture them on dangerous squares, as when they are used to draw a king forward.
And remember, a pawn can be very useful when dropped anywhere close to its promotion rank or to the enemy king.
- As in shogi, you can prevent your opponent from parachuting somewhere by parachuting there yourself.
At times, the best way of stopping a pawn from promoting is to exchange off the imprisoned piece to which it would like to promote. [*]Although experts at the normal western game may soon find themselves playing hostage chess fairly well, a computer program that could play it to the same standard would be extremely hard to write. Here as in shogi, where computers have made little progress, the tree of possible moves keeps branching explosively. Attacking is the recommended means of keeping the explosiveness under your own control.
Normal algebraic, except for the following.
- N*c7 means that a knight from an airfield parachutes onto c7.
- (B-N)N*c7 says an imprisoned bishop goes to the enemy airfield and a knight is rescued, the knight then at
once parachuting onto c7.
- *g3 says a pawn from an airfield parachutes onto g3.
- (R-P)*g3 says an imprisoned rook goes to the enemy airfield and a pawn is rescued, the pawn at once
parachuting onto g3.
- gxf8=R says a pawn on the g file captures on f8 and then "promotes to rook" by changing places with a
rook in the enemy prison.
SOME "HOSTAGE CHESS" GAMES:
1.d4 d5 2.Nc3 e5 3.dxe5 d4 4.Nf3 dxc3 4.Qxd8+ Kxd8
5.Bg5+ Be7 6.bxc3 Nc6 7.Rd1+ Bd7 8.(Q-Q)Q*d5 Q*e6 [White pushes the imprisoned black queen forward into his opponent's airfield, which allows him to rescue his own imprisoned queen and drop it onto d5. Black then takes the queen from the airfield and drops it onto e6.]
9.Qxe6 fxe6 10.Bxe7+ Kxe7 11.Rxd7+ Kxd7 12.(B-N)N*c5+ Kc8
13.(B-B)B*d7+ Kd8 14.(Q-Q)Q*e8 mate (an unusually brief battle, but games do tend to end quickly once both queens have become hostages)
The diagram below shows the final position.
The airfields are near each player's left hand and the player' prisoners ("hostages") are near each player's right hand.
1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. Nc3 e5 4. d5 c6 5. e4 b56 dxc 6.(P-P)*d4
7. *d7 Nxc6 [Black is not in check because White's pawn cannot promote: there is not yet any imprisoned white piece with which the pawn could change places]
8. Qxd4 Bxd7 [capturing and imprisoning the queen would be an illegal self-check since White's pawn would then be able to promote]
9. Qdl (P-P)*d4 10. Nd5 Bb4+ 11. Bd2 Bxd2+ 12. Qxd2 Be613 a4 Bxd5 14. exd5 (B-B)B*b4
15. *c3 dxc3 16. bxc3 Bxc3 17. Qxc3 (N-B)B*b4 18. Qxb4 Nxb4 19. Rbl (P-P)*d2+
20. Kxd2 Qxd5+ 21. Kcl Na2+ 22. Kc2 (P-P)*b3+ 23. Kb2 (Q-B)B*c3+ 24. Ka3 b4 mate..
This sparkling game was won by David Pritchard. It was his first experience of playing hostage chess.
1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4. exd6 cxd6 5. Bc4 Nb6 6. Bb5+ Bd7 7. Bxd7+ Qxd7 8. Nc3 e6
9. Nf3 Be7 10. Bg5 (P-P)*g4 11. Bxe7 gxf3 12. *f6 fxg2 13. Rgl (B-B)B*fl 14. fxg7 Qxe7
15. gxh8=B [the pawn on the g file captures on h8 and "promotes to bishop" by changing places with the bishop in the enemy prison] ..N(8)d7
16. (B-N)N*c7+ Kd8 17. Nxa8 Nc4 18. Rxg2 Bxg2 19. (P-P)*c7+ Kc8 20. (R-R)R*d8+ Qxd8 21. cxd8=R+ Kxd8
22. (P-P)*c7+ Ke7 23. B*d8+ Kf8 24. Bg7+ Kxg7 25. Qg4+ R*g6 26. Qxg6+ hxg6 27. (R-B)B*f6+ Nxf6
28. Bxf6+ Kxf6 29. (N-B)B*d8+ Kg7 [instead of blundering into 29..(P-P)*e7
30. Bxe7+ Kxe7 31. (Q-Q)Q*d8 mate] 30. (Q-Q)Q*f6+ Kh6 31. (R-R)R*h5+ Kxh5
32. Qg5 mate ..As the force on Black's airfield grew larger and larger,it became ever more important for White to continue the long series of checks. Failure to do so would have meant quick defeat, a very shogi-like situation. Traditional shogi mating problems specify that the attacker's every move must be a check.
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Bc5 4.Bb5 Nd4 5.Nxe5 Qe7 6.Nxf7 Kxf7 7.Bc4+ Kf8
8.d3 g6 9.Bxg8 Rxg8 10.Ne2 (N-N)N*f3+ 11.gxf3 Nxf3+ 12.Kfl Qh4 13.(P-P)*g3 Qh5 14.N*f4 Nxh2+
15.Kgl (B-N)N*f3+ 16.Kg2 *h3+ 17.Nxh3 Qxh3+ 18.Kxh3 d5+ 19.(P-P)*f5 Bxf5+ 20.exf5 *g4+
21.Kg2 (N-B)B*h3 mate, the culmination of a violent attack combining multiple sacrifices and drops
1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.f4 dxe5 5.fxe5 c5 6.c4 Nb6 7.d5 Bf5 8.Bd3 e6 9.Bxf5 Qh4+
10.g3 Qxc4 11.Bd3 (P-P)*g2 [threatening to promote to queen if the black queen is captured]
12.Nf3 Qxd3 [once again, the same threat] 13.Rg1 Qxd5 14.Rxg2 Qxd1+ 15.Kxd1 (Q-Q)Q*f1+
16.Ne1 (P-P)*f2 17.(B-B)B*b5+ Qxb5 18.Rxf2 Nc6 19.Nc3 Rd8+ 20.*d6 Qc4 21.*f4 Bxd6
22.exd6 Rxd6+ 23.(P-P)*d3 Rxd3+ 24.Nxd3 Qxd3+ 25.Rd2 Qf1+ 26.Kc2 B*d3+ 27.Kb3 Na5+
28.Ka3 *b4 mate, ending an odd and exciting game between players about equally strong at western chess:
the winner was a professional
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Nc3 Nxe4 5.Nxe4 d5 6.Bxd5 Qxd5 7.Nc3 Qa5 8.O-O (P-P)*d4
9.Ne4 Bg4 10.h3 Bh5 11.g4 f5 12.gxf5 O-O-O 13.*g4 Bf7 14.(N-B)B*e 6+ Bxe6 15.fxe6 N*f4
16.(B-B)B*d7+ Rxd7 17.exd7+ Kxd7 18.(P-P)*e2 B*g2 19.Re1 Bxf3 20.exf3 *e2 21.Rxe2 Nxe2+
22.Qxe2 (N-N)N*f4 23.(R-R)R*f7+ Be7 24.Rxf4 d3 25.Qxd3+ R*d5 26.N*c5+ Kc8 27.Qxd5 Rd8
28.(B-B)B*d7+ Kb8 29.Rf7 B*g8 30.Be6 Rxd5
31.Rf8+ Nd8 [capturing White's rook would be punished by (R-R)R*c8 mate] 32.Nd7+ Rxd7 33.Bxd7 a6
34.Rxg8 Qd5 35.Rxd8+ Bxd8 36.(R-R)R*c8+ Ka7 37.Rxd8 (N-N)N*e2+ 38.Kf1 R*g1+
40.Ke3 Qd4 mate (conducted by airmail, and an unusually long game: Black, a former Scottish Champion in
standard western chess, had to fight back after getting into unexpected trouble when playing the Canadian
developer of this Hostage Chess Package)
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