D-Chess

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A various set up of D-Chess

D-chess is a chess variant invented in 2008 by Dr. David N. Snyder. The “D” is for displacement or it can be for Dhamma (a Pali term from ancient India, where chess originated) or for doctor of chess, the highest, most evolved form of the chess game. But for ease of naming, simply calling it D-Chess is sufficient.

In D-Chess the beginning positions of the pieces on the back row are randomly determined, with the one restriction that the bishops be on opposite-colored squares. There are 8,294,400 such positions in total. In Chess960 there are 960 possible starting positions, but that is because the king must be located between the rooks. In transcendental chess and D-Chess there is no such rule so the position of one side can be any of 2880 (2880 squared equals 8,294,400 potential different starting positions).

It is similar to Transcendental chess with the main difference being that only one game is needed to be played against each opponent. In Transcendental chess the players take turns playing white and black because of the asymmetrical position. In D-Chess the game is equalized out by one player choosing the stronger side to play and the other player having the option of transposing two pieces in his back row and making the first move.

Dr. David N. Snyder at an outdoor chess set arranged in a D-Chess format
Alexandra Kosteniuk of Russia, former Women's World Chess Champion and two time winner of Women's World Chess960 Championship. Chess960 was invented by Bobby Fischer and is very similar to D-Chess.

Today there are many chess variants out there that have attempted to improve on the game of chess with various rule changes, including different pieces, boards, etc. But it will be shown that D-Chess represents the best form and where the most use of actual chess skills are used and not rote memory or luck.

Chess in its current form played by such champions as Fischer, Kasparov, and Anand is not the original version of the game. The chess game originated in India (sometime between 100 BCE and 500 CE) and was called Chaturanga which is Sanskrit for "an army comprising four parts" (elephants, chariots, cavalry, and infantry). The pieces moved slightly differently, such as the king’s general (equivalent to queen in the modern game) which could only move one square at a time and an elephant piece which moved two spaces in any direction. It made several other changes as the game evolved to its current format. The current format has remained unchanged since around 1450 and it became an international sport around 1850. Therefore, chess purists have no reason to complain about suggested improvements to the game, since chess has in fact undergone numerous changes since its origin in ancient India.

The problems with chess as we typically know it

1. Opening theories and moves – Because chess is played with the same piece arrangement for white and black, several different opening styles have been used. These have been studied and analyzed to death so that if you are playing black and white makes a certain move, you already have memorized what the best counter move is and then when he makes his second move you will already know which move to counter that. Some of these opening systems go up to 16 moves! That is , there is a set way to respond based on your opponent’s moves and your moves are based on what has been tried and tested over the decades to work. Often a player will win a chess game and match simply because they have studied these opening systems and memorized them. In many cases it is the player with the better memory that wins, rather than the one who has better chess skills or intelligence. A list of common opening move systems shows more than 500 different variations and the best players must memorize all of these.

Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings - Wikipedia

2. There is a distinct and definite advantage to playing white because white moves first. Not at the average or amateur level, but at the higher levels of chess, especially among all masters and grandmasters, there is an advantage to the player moving first. Often times in tournaments the player moving first is determined by a coin-toss or other lot, which then brings the element of chance and luck into the game, rather than skill or intellect. To the average player moving first this may not look like a big deal. But at the championship level it is a big deal where the person playing white wins about 75% of the time if you don’t count draws. This is sometimes compensated by making players play both black and white against each opponent. But in many cases this just ends up with both players winning when they played white, thus effectively “drawing” both games as each win one and lose one (written like this: +1 -1 =0).

3. Boredom – The modern game as we know it is very boring and has been declining in popularity. It only rebounds in popularity when there is some exciting new player from a country that normally has not had champions, such as when Bobby Fischer (U.S.) won the world title in 1972 and when Anand (India) won in 2007. The modern game is boring because there are too many draws. There are too many draws because all of the champion players have memorized the opening systems and rattle off the first 8 to 16 moves at the speed of light before then settling down to actually play chess. That is, the players already know before they sit down to play what their first 8 to 16 moves will be depending upon what their opponent’s moves are. Even in wide variations, there are different opening systems and the players know how to respond. After the opening moves are finished at the speed of light the position is very equalized and it is difficult to launch any kind of attack, so that most games end up in a draw. Among the games played in world championship matches from 1978 to 1992 a very high 70% ended in draws. Among the games played in the 2012 to 2016 world championship matches (not counting tie break rapid games) a very high 76% were draws. The following table demonstrates how the trend has been going toward higher numbers of draws over the years and decades:

Years Won Lost Draws Total games Percent draws
1886-1899 54 30 28 112 25%
1900-1947 73 27 106 206 51%
1948-1972 63 39 123 225 55%
1973-1992 35 24 135 194 70%
1993-2011 46 20 104 170 61%
2012-2016 8 3 34 45 76%

In the above table 'Won' refers to the number of wins by the champion and 'Lost' refers to the number of his losses. The year groupings were chosen this way:

  • 1886-1899 = First years of official world championship matches prior to 20th century.
  • 1900-1947 = Official championships in the first half of the 20th century.
  • 1948-1972 = Official championships in 20th century after the WWII interruption / interregnum up to Bobby Fischer's championship.
  • 1973-1992 = Official championships post Fischer up to the time when title was still undisputed.
  • 1993-2011 = Period when there were two championship organizations and two sets of champions plus a few years of undisputed championship matches.
  • 2012-2016 = Current period.

The Solution

1. The solution to the rote memory of over 500 opening systems is to displace the pieces in the back rows, that is, the pieces behind the pawns. This can be done by an eight-sided die (singular for dice) which can be found at a hobby store or game store. Alternatively cards can be used. If a die is used, 1 can represent a king, 2 the queen, 3 a rook, 4 a rook, 5 a knight, 6 a knight, 7 a bishop, and 8 a bishop. This random or varied arrangement is done for white and then for black.

2. Because of the unequal, asymmetrical arrangement of the pieces behind the pawns one side will inevitably be in a “stronger” position than the other. Therefore, a coin-toss is done to see which player gets to choose which side to take. The winner of the coin-toss chooses the side he wants, which will be the side that he feels has a stronger position of the pieces. This does not give him an unfair advantage because of the next very important rule to D-Chess: The loser of the coin-toss gets to move first. By moving first, the game is then equalized again. The winner of the coin-toss chooses the better position, but the loser of the coin-toss moves first. Therefore, there is no advantage to either winning or losing the coin-toss. There is also no need to play more than one game against each opponent. And another big advantage is that in D-Chess white does not necessarily move first all the time. As in any 50-50 probability, there will be about half of all games where white has the superior advantage and half the time where black has the superior advantage and then the other side moves first, which will be black in exactly 50% percent of all games over the long-run. Some have jokingly said that chess is racist with white moving first, but this is not so with D-Chess. In D-Chess there are 8,294,400 different possible starting positions, making it virtually impossible for opening systems from ever being created. The chess game with chess skills and intellect starts with the very first move. Actually even before the first move begins, chess skills are used as a player must determine which side (black or white) has a better piece arrangement. The winner of the coin-toss does not have an unfair advantage by getting to choose which side to take not only because the other player gets to move first, but also because the winner of the coin-toss might make the wrong decision as to which side is better, strategically.

3. Because of the unequal, asymmetrical arrangement, there will be fewer draws. This is equalized by the weaker side moving first, but there is no way for one side to copy the moves of their opponent, because doing so even with the pawns will make no sense as the pieces are arranged differently behind the pawns. The game strategy will start right away without rote memories being used and interesting use of the pieces with creative sacrifices and other tactics will be used. Other chess variants still involve the same starting positions and in most cases, one side moving first all the time. None of the other chess variants solve the problems of modern chess the way D-Chess does and only two come close, TC and ATC, discussed below in the Timeline of D-Chess.

Official Rules of D-Chess

  • 1. The game of D-Chess has the exact same rules of modern chess as we know it (including 8 x 8 board, en passant, draw rules, etc., see:

Rules of Chess

with the following exceptions:

  • 2. The pieces in the back row, behind the pawns are randomly arranged by a die or other form of lot, such as cards. This is done for the black and white side, separately (different starting positions). Bishops must remain on opposite colors. If the die comes up with another bishop and it is for the same color square, the die is rolled again so that the final set-up has both sides with their bishops on opposite color squares.
  • 3. A coin is tossed to determine which player gets to choose which side to take for the game (the side with a stronger strategic position, such as a better control of the center, for example, the rooks or queen at or near the center). The winner of the coin-toss chooses the side (it may be white or it may be black).
  • 4. The loser of the coin-toss gets to move first (thereby equalizing the game once again). Over time half of all games will have white moving first and half will be with black moving first, thereby making white no more or less superior or inferior to black and no extra advantage to moving first.
  • 5. Because of the unusual set-up there can be no castling. All other moves, pieces, and strategies are like the modern game of chess. Instead of castling the player that moves first (the loser in the coin-toss) has the option of transposing two pieces in his back row. This will also help to equalize the asymmetrical position. After transposing two pieces, he makes his first move and the game proceeds as in the normal chess rules shown above. Only the player who moves first has this option of transposing two pieces and he can only do so at the beginning of the game and he can also choose not to do so. For example, in the chess diagram above, if the player who gets to choose selects white because of the bishops at the corners and rooks near the center, the other player plays black and could transpose a8 with c8 so that the king could be away from the corner and then he gets to make the first move too.
  • 6. To play D-Chess against a computer program, simply set up the position to one of the D-Chess positions and choose which side you want. And then let the computer make the first move. As shown above, this equalizes the position and does not give either side any extra advantage. If you would rather have the computer decide which side to take and then you move first, it will just take a little more time by setting up the position and checking the computer's analysis of the position to see which side the program thinks is best. For example the analysis might look something like +0.2 or -0.3 to represent how it feels the strategic position of the board is for their side with a positive number representing a good position and negative number representing a bad position.

Timeline of D-Chess

  • 1921 Jose Raul Capablanca (Cuba), world chess champion also becomes the de facto first world champion of D-Chess as he suggests that the rooks and bishops be transposed. He also proposes a variant with a larger board and two extra pieces. A temporary solution since eventually opening theories would be developed as there is still only one possible starting position.
  • 1935 A postal chess tournament was held which included grandmaster Paul Keres (Estonia) where the king and queen were transposed.
  • 1978 Maxwell Lawrence (U.S.) invents Transcendental Chess (TC) postal chess club where the pieces are randomly placed for white and black and players take turns playing white and black with the same random set-up. It is the couplet result of both games that count, not the individual games so that there still ends up being too many draws as each player wins when they have the dominant, stronger side which then means that the couplet is a draw.
  • 1986 Ron Koskela (U.S.) adapts TC to include Auction Transcendental Chess (ATC) where players bid a certain number of moves for the right to play the side with the stronger strategic position. For example, the player who bids first might bid one move in exchange for a certain side and then the other player may counter with bidding two moves and then if the original bidder accepts, he gets to move two moves right from the beginning. This format is an excellent improvement to TC, but still has some problems, such as some found the bidding process confusing and thought it was like gambling or that there might be some luck involved (which is not the case) and also that very rarely will any position be worth more than one move in exchange for the better position. In the rare event that one side’s position is in a much less strategic position, that player can use the transposing option. In TC and ATC, both players have the transposing option, but in D-Chess it is only the player who moves first that has that option, effectively eliminating the need for the confusing bidding process.
  • 1988 Ron Koskela wins the first ATC postal tournament.
  • 1991 Dr. David N. Snyder (U.S.) wins the second ATC tournament and the first from a field of international participants.
  • 1992 Dr. David N. Snyder (U.S.) wins the third ATC tournament and defeats the highest rated player of Transcendental Chess (TC) in this tournament.
  • 1996 Former world champion of modern chess, Bobby Fischer (U.S.) invents Chess 960 which involves randomized placement, but the same starting positions for white and black and castling is allowed as the king is always placed between the two rooks. It is called Chess 960 because there are 960 possible different starting positions. This is a good variant, but still does not solve the problem of white starting first and there are only 960 different starting positions, which could inevitably end up with opening theories in the future. In TC, ATC, and D-Chess there is virtually no possibility for opening theories since there are over 8.2 million different starting positions.
  • 2008 Dr. David N. Snyder officially launches and announces D-Chess, which improves further upon ATC.

See also