Orphic Chess is ideal for endgame experts because endgames, of great variation, often occur early in the game. The objective is checkmate. Pieces and pawns move as in orthodox chess, except that castling doesn't exist. Promotion rules are the same as in orthodox chess. All the pawns are positioned on the third rank, while the rest of the pieces are in the reserve. In the first phase the players take turns to drop pieces anywhere on the board, or on a friendly pawn. In the latter case the removed friendly pawn must immediately be relocated to an empty position, but not beyond the fourth rank, and not on the first rank. The two bishops must be dropped on different colours.
Before the friendly King has been dropped, pieces and pawns may only make capture moves. Hence, in this stage, the pieces cannot move to empty squares. The King can be dropped at any time, however, as long as other pieces remain in the friendly reserve, the King may only be placed on the first rank. If the King is the last piece to be dropped, it can be placed anywhere on the board.
As long as the King has not entered the board, the pieces are very vulnerable. On the other hand, it is very risky to drop the King on the first rank, and it disposes of the final powerful drop move, with which the King can be placed anywhere. Since the pawns are placed on the board from the start, the dropping phase is shorter than in other drop variants. Thanks to the pawn relocation procedure, there is great freedom in the placement of the pawns, anyway. This also implies that the pieces in the reserve have recourse to the positions where the pawns are located. You are not allowed to make a pawn-relocation if in check. Since pawns can be relocated to the second rank, the double step and en passant rules are retained.
The prohibition of non-capture moves, as long as the King is not dropped, causes perplexing problems. Although one would want to drop the heavy pieces immediately, because they have so many capture moves, this could be a risky strategy. Sooner or later the heavy piece might be attacked by light pieces, or relocated pawns, with a resultant loss of material. This could happen if the heavy piece has no good capture moves available. On the other hand, it is often possible to sacrifice a Queen, or Rook, for a light piece because the remaining pieces in the reserve have so many move freedoms. As a result there are many attacking possibilities. It's often a good idea to let a Knight remain in the reserve as it is ideal for attacking heavy pieces. The Knights are more dangerous in this variant than in regular chess.
Orphic Chess was invented and implemented by undersigned, June 2006. According to the dictionary, 'orphic' means mystic, oracular, or fascinating, entrancing. This is an apt description of this game. It is hard to come to grips with. This game is very tactical, and fast. It is also attractive to endgame lovers, because interesting endgame positions, of great variation, are likely to occur already after 15-20 moves. A game example where I play white against the computer is here.
Variants with Elks (see ElkChess) instead of Rooks have also been implemented, and variants where the King is not restricted to the first rank. The Elk is suitable for this game because, as a drop-piece, it is lethal.
In Orphic Chess with Elks the King is not restricted to the first rank when dropped early. This variant is interesting because the Elks are in this context very useful.
• You can download my free Orphic Chess program here, (updated 2007-11-11) but you must own the software Zillions of Games to be able to run it.
• Try playing Orphic Chess by e-mail, against a human opponent, here.
• or try Orphic Chess, with Elks, by e-mail, here.
• Don't miss my other chess variants.
© M. Winther 2006