Updated
21 Jun 2011


 
4-Chess - Adversaries and Allies is a very entertaining and fun game suitable for families and friends.  It was created as a life-imitating variant to an already popular 4-player chess variant.  It aims to be very intuitive for two-player chess players new to four-player chess in that all the standard rules apply, and only a few extra rules are needed because four players are involved. 
The Board:

The now near-standard four-player, 14-row, 160-square board is used as depicted to the right.  This is a standard 8x8 chess board with three rows added on each edge to accommodate the two extra players and increase the playing area.   The board design is at least 300 years old, and no board manufacturer today holds a patent or copyright on it.  Note that the board corners are not used. 

Setup:

The pieces are set on the board as depicted to the left.  Players choose whatever color they like. in whatever order they like.  There are no standard colors for 4 player chess, other than each color should be distinctive.

The standard 2-player colors of black and white generally are avoided because they carry too much 2-player baggage, such as white always starts, players switch colors each new game, and white and black are always adversaries. 

In 4-player chess, players can keep the same color every game,, start rotates with each new game, and any or all other players may be your ally or your adversary.  

The addition of another set of players more than quadruples the complexity of the game, and each player must be especially mindful of the added danger from the players on each side. 

Play may be clockwise  or counter-clockwise. It is a good idea to switch play direction each new game.

 

Starting Configurations:

The normal setup for two-player chess is queens on their own color facing each other.  This is NOT used in four player chess -- because the occurrence of another set of players destroys the symmetry of the pieces and introduces a bias (unfairness) favoring the player moving first and disfavoring the player moving last.

 Instead, queens may either all be placed on the same color, or all go on the left (or right) of the king.  When any of these four starting configurations are used, all players have an equal chance of winning,  These four fair (unbiased) starting configurations are depicted below.
 

PLAYER PROFICIENCY
One might think that four-player chess requires too much skill for younger players and novices.  And indeed the possible moves are staggering.  But the introduction of two additional players wrecks havoc on traditional strategies.  For instance, two strong players may focus on each other so much that they ignore weaker players -- until the strong players have so decimated each other that the weaker players suddenly emerge as having dominant positions that allow them to win the game.  And my experience is that the existence of players forming alliances and being able to gang up against a powerful player tends to even the playing field.  For example, I often play Allies & Adversaries with my wife and two daughters, ages 8 and 11.  They all gang up on me.  It becomes very difficult for one strong player to defend against two, or three, players attacking him.  The first two games we played, they eliminated me early and my 8-year old won. 
 
ALLIANCES
I
n two-player chess, opponents sit opposite each other.  But in four-player chess, it is more natural and easier to attack the players to the side than it is to attack forward.  This makes players sitting opposite each other more likely to form natural alliances, and players sitting side by side to be natural adversaries.  It appears that four-player chess favors the formation of opposite-sitting players as a team.  In fact, the early rules of four-player chess required players sitting opposite of each other to be partners, and as partners, they could not capture or attack each other's pieces.

4-Chess - Adversaries and Allies does not force a partnership on any player.  Instead, players may act as allies or adversaries at will, changing strategic alliances as the game progresses and as changing circumstances might require.  One player's pieces may attack and capture any other player's pieces, or refrain from it. 

All things equal, a team should have a geometric advantage over a lone player.  However, all things are seldom equal in real life.  Some individuals are very compatible and form a formidable team.  Other individuals may be so incompatible that the alliance is counterproductive.  In general, however, once two players form an alliance, the other two players should also form an alliance in self defense.  Otherwise they will individually be at a tremendous disadvantage against the team.  

There is great merit in formally forming an alliance.  But remember also that any player at one time or another may be an unwitting ally or adversary to another player.  And while everyone expects natural opponents (side-by-side players) to be adversaries, even they may occasionally team up to punish an especially unruly or obnoxious player. 
 

PERCEPTION & DECEPTION
Unlike early four-player team chess, which required all players to refrain from divulging their intentions,
4-Chess - Adversaries and Allies allows players to talk to each other and comment on the game.  Players may offer each other advice , which may be devious and intended to confuse, mislead, or give the advising player an advantaging.  Players may also make promises that they may break.

While honesty and trust are valued traits to pursue and practice, being open and transparent in chess is a disadvantage in that it can give a decided advantage to adversaries who do not reciprocate with the same openness and transparency.  In competition as in real life, it is often important to gain an unnoticed edge in order to prevail, so silence is often the better strategy.  

Once an individual is known for uttering falsehoods, he loses effectiveness, and may find three players have teamed up against him.  And once a betrayal occurs, very strong emotions for revenge are created that begin to affect plays.  Even the most Spock-like human will find it difficult not to waste a move in revenge for a real or imagined wrong or  betrayal. 

Chess requires a very disciplined logic to win, but the insertion of the possibility of deceit and betrayal can causes strong emotional conflicts to enter into the fray, confusing planned outcomes, just as in real life.   Players must learn to see through the misleading rhetoric and read the board for clues.    It is the introduction of the possibility of deception and betrayal into the game that makes it more like real life and exciting to play for everyone.  Once again, though, silence may be the far better strategy
 

CONFIGURATION SYMMETRY and FAIRNESS
Four-player chess configuration can greatly affect a player's chances to win.  The absolute requirement for a competitive game should be that all players begin at the outset with an equal chance to win.  The three most commonly used piece configuration for chess only involve queen and king placement, all other pieces always face like pieces across the board (pawn to pawn, rook to rook, knight to knight, and bishop to bishop).  The order of play, clockwise or counter-clockwise, does not affect fairness.

1st Configuration:  All queens are placed to the left of the king (white queen left of white king, etc.), or, all queens are placed to the right of the king (just the reverse of all queens to the left)
    Fairness:  Perfectly fair configuration for both two-player and four-player chess.

2nd Configuration:  All queens are on a white square (most common four player configuration), or, all queens are on a black square (just the reverse of all queens on a white square)
    Fairness:   Perfectly fair configuration for both two-player and four-player chess.

3rd Configuration:  Queens face each other across the board (as in two-player chess)
    Fairness:
  Perfectly fair in 2-player chess.  Biased (unfair) in four-player chess.  NOT RECOMMENDED in four-way chess.

For further discussion on symmetry and bias, click on the link below.

 SYMMETRY & BIAS
 

FAVORED OPENING 
In four-player chess, the queen is even more powerful than in two-player chess.  And initially the bishops are much more useful than the rooks.  Every player will want to free their queen on the first opportunity by King's pawn to King's row 4, which not only frees the queen to attack diagonally against her king-side player, but also allows the king's bishop to attack the queen-side player.
 
STRATEGY
The best strategy in 4-CHESS ADVERSARIES & ALLIES is for the weaker players to form an ad-hoc alliance to gang up on, and eliminate, the strongest player, after which the two weakest players should ally to attack and eliminate the remaining strongest player.  This alliance capability radically changes the possible outcomes of Chess.  
 

SET COLORS
Four-player chess
is played with four sets of standard pieces on an expanded board.  A set consists of 8 pawns, 2-rooks, 2-knights, 2-bishops,  1-queen, & 1-king.  All four players must have a different color (or style) sufficient to readily tell one player's pieces from another player's.    Any color is fine as long as it is readily differentiated from the others.  Any unique combination of color and style may be used that sufficiently differentiates the players.  

WHITE & BLACK
When White and Black colors are used, they should be placed adjacent to each other, rather than across from each other, in order to emphasize that the "enemy" is usually to the left (and right), as depicted to the right >>.

BOARD COLORS
The board colors should be sufficiently contrasting to aide the eye to differentiate rows, columns and diagonals., and still allow the pieces to stand out.

PLAY SEQUENCE
T
he players pick who is to start.  Because the first player has a perceived advantage to win, each succeeding game should start with a different player.  Play can be clockwise or counter-clockwise.  Successive Games should alternate between clockwise and counter-clockwise play to add new challenges for the players.  The players should decide on the play sequence before the game starts.
 
ALTERNATING CONFIGURATIONS
Players holding successive marathons may want to alternate configurations so new strategies are required in succeeding games.  For example, queens on white, next game queens on black, next game queens on left, next game queens on right, and then repeat (configurations 1 and 2, above.)  Remember to avoid queens facing queen (configuration 3, above) as this configuration is biased (unfair) in 4-player chess.  The players may decide on how the configurations should alternate before a marathon starts, or they can allow whoever starts to declare the starting configuration.
 

RULES

 All standard chess rules apply as regards piece movement., except as follows:

PAWNS
1
.  Pawns advance in their column and capture on the diagonal,  just as in two-player chess.  O
n reaching its end row (its 14th row) the pawn may reverse its direction, or be exchanged for another piece.   

2.  Pawns that manage to reach the end rows of the players on their sides may also be exchanged for another piece (such as a queen).  It is generally difficult for a pawn to reach the end row to the side because the only way a pawn can get to the side is by shifting columns in capturing pieces.   

EN PASSING:
The en-passing rule is the same as in two-player chess, and can also occur with pawns coming in laterally from the side players.  The test is also the same -- if the passing pawn (only on first move) could have been captured if only one move was made instead of two, the passed pawn may capture it on his next move.  If not taken on the first opportunity, en passing is forfeited. 

CHECK
A
player may move his king into a check.  This is allowed because other players may intervene, deliberately or inadvertently, to block or cancel a check.  It is very risky to deliberately risk a check, because an ally may suddenly turn adversary, or not be successful in interceding.  An opponent may warn  a player moving a king or queen into check, but it is not required -- because his ally, if he has one, may also warn him .

CHECKMATE
A checkmate is not the end game.  A king must actually be captured and removed from the board, at which time  the vanquished player ceases to be a player.  This is necessary because the game does not necessarily end on a checkmate.  Allies and adversaries may interfere and rescue the checkmated king  -- attacking the checking positions and  capturing or blocking a key attacking piece.  A player with a checkmated king may move any of his pieces while his king is checkmated but not actually captured.  

When a king is captured and removed from the board, the defeated player's remaining pieces stay static on the board, but may be captured and removed by any remaining player.  This is the default rule.  Some players allow the player who captures a king to take control of the captured king's pieces, and/or take the turn of the defeated player. These are variant rules that must be declared and agreed to before the game starts. 

WINNING
1.   The last king remaining is the winner, assuming the victorious king also attacks and defeats his (former) allies or adversaries. 

2.  When any two kings remain, they may declare an alliance or truce and declare each other a winner.  Or, they may fight on till the death, even if they were former allies (old grudges may surface which cause the remaining two remaining players to fight on.)
 

THREE PLAYERS
Three players on a four-player chess board can be even more exciting and challenging them four players.  When playing with only three players, all four chess sets are on the board. The players take turns moving the fourth set, so the fourth set becomes extremely dangerous, becoming an ally on your move, but a very unpredictable and dangerous opponent when its the other two player's turns.  The fourth set throws a monkey wrench into traditional strategy.
 

Acquiring a four-player chess setLarge 4 Player Chess Set
There are only a few four-player chess sets being marketed.

The set to the right is a 24" vinyl board set sold by Chess House with a 3-3/4" king with 1-1/2" base and nicely weighted pieces.   (http://www.chesshouse.com/Large_4_Player_Chess_Set_p/e081.htm) for about $20, including extra queens

 


 

The set to the left is from American Chess Equipment (http://www.amchesseq.com/644chsetco.html)  for $23.50,
also with  a 24" vinyl board, including a storage bag, a 3-3/4" king with 1-1/2" base, and nicely weighted pieces.  


    

 

American Chess also sells just the vinyl board for about $12, and different color sets  for about $5 for a 2-colors set. 

 


 

You can make your own board from this GIF image
 

You may print out my rules and distribute them, providing you don't charge a fee for them, and you include the copyright.
 

2010, 2011 Simon Revere Mouer III, PhD, PE, all rights reserve