Monday, July 30, 2007

On Chess Variants

I have had a long-term interest in chess variants. Chess variants are various ways of changing the rules of chess to make a slightly, or, at times, very different game. My motivation in interest in Chess variants is summed up in an article in this zipfile:
One of the nice things about chess variant design is that it opens up new fields of opening study to explore. In FIDE (orthodox, western) Chess, any move on the first half-dozen turns that is not an outright blunder has already been throughly studied and explored. Many opening lines are 20 or 30 moves deep. There are little, if any, interesting new frontiers to explore.

Chess variants, however, make it possible for someone to be a trailblazer again, exploring openings that have never been studied before.
I have been studying a chess variant which I "invented" back in 2004 (and published in 2006) called "Schoolbook Chess".

There are a couple of things a chess variant inventor can do to help people play their chess variant. One thing they can do is make a game courier preset. This is a web service where one can easily add new chess variants. Most presets do not enforce the rules for the variant. The preset I made for Schoolbook chess, however, enforces the rules simply because I was able to easily modify another preset that is identical in all aspects except for the opening setup of the pieces.

Another thing someone can do to play chess variants is to make a Zillions of Games rules file. Zillions of Games is a proprietary program for Windows (runs well under Wine) that can play a large number of Chess variants and other abstract strategy games. My zipfile is an implementation of Schoolbook chess for Zillions of Games. However, it also has ChessV rules files for Schoolbook (not that they are needed; ChessV has had the ability to play Schoolbook since the 0.9.0 release a year ago). In addition, it has some documentation for Schoolbook, including opening analysis, annotated games, and a few mating positions.

What I was doing all weekend was updating this zipfile. First of all, ChessV has moved since I last released a Zillions zipfile. I also updated a couple of other links.

Second of all, I added four mating positions (maybe I should reword those last two words) to the zipfile. This was the lion's share of the work. I had to make sure the positions were indeed mating positions, make two screenshots for each position (we use a different black and white color scheme when printing the page), create and verify the solutions to the mating positions, and then integrate the positions in to the list of 12 mating positions we already had, double and triple checking to make sure I did not introduce any errors. This took hours.

During this process, I submitted some of these new mating positions that have not been submitted to the chess variants page before, which also took some work.

Once that was done, I had to modify the zipfile a little (removing some "no commercial use" graphics) in order to make the zipfile suitable for submission to Zillions of Games. I then submitted my submission via email.

This took all weekend to do. Far longer than I thought it would. All for a game that has only been played about two dozen times, mostly me-vs-some other chess variant inventor (the mating positions and opening analysis come mainly from computer-vs-computer or some of my computer-vs-human games). Needless to say, I don't think I will revise this game at all until 2008.

- Sam