Four-way Chess

I’ve been toying with an idea for a while regarding chess with more than two players.  I think I see a fairly simple way to play chess with four players.

Four-way Chessboard

Four-way Chessboard

Basic Rules

The board is pretty simple, take a standard board and put a half-board on each side such that the checkerboard pattern is continued, as shown in the diagram.

Each player has a different color set of pieces, arranged normally in the two outer-most ranks.  This arrangement gives each player two additional ranks to maneuver in before entering the mosh pit that the center board will become.  Pieces move according to normal rules, from the perspective of the player (thus, the player in the West position advances toward the East… but the East is not his only opponent).  Kings are removed when they are checkmated; play continues until only one king remains on the board.

Variations and Other Ideas

Captured King

When a king is taken, normally that ends a two-player game.  Everyone packs up and goes home (or starts another game).  In a four-player game, however, there are more options.

  • Checkmated player is out of the game and pieces are removed.
  • Checkmated player cannot win, but may still play pieces (and potentially force a draw, if all kings can end up checkmated and thus removed.
  • Checkmated player cannot win as long as his king is out of play, but a promoted pawn may be able to ‘rescue’ his king and bring him back into play (deep in enemy territory, but free again).


In a normal game a pawn that reaches the other side of the board is promoted (usually to queen, sometimes to another piece — most often a knight).  The same happens in this game, but that’s a long way to go (fourteen ranks instead of six).  Consider allowing a pawn that reaches the last rank of an adjacent player to be promoted as well.  This probably won’t be any easier, the pawn has to capture at least four other pieces in order to move far enough diagonally to get promoted.

It might be worth considering making pawns slightly more capable.  Perhaps they can move in any forward direction (NW, N, NE, if facing north)… and perhaps even due south (retreat!).  This is a departure from how pieces can normally move, but it may be a change worth making.

Shorter Field

Instead of having four ranks in which to maneuver before entering the main battle, consider using only three or even two.  This will undoubtedly make for a faster game, especially if the teams start in contact with each other.

I suspect that you could even use this as something of a handicap.  Starting back a bit farther may give an advantage, more time to prepare before entering the main battle.  On the other hand, starting closer might be an advantage in that it lets you try to gain control of the main area sooner.

Another variation, perhaps each player could choose where to start, closer or further from the battle site.

Allies and Enemies

The rules initially presented assume mutually antagonistic forces, everybody wants everybody else defeated.  You might consider instead two sets of allied forces working against each other.  For this variation allied forces are considered friendly to each other and do not threaten each others pieces (so if white and green are allied, green cannot be considered when putting white in check, and vice-versa).  Allies might be neighbors (so South and West are allies and North and East are allies), or they might face each other (South and North, East and West).

You might consider instead having each pair of allies represented by a single color, so you have only white and black on the board.  This may complicate things because it means pawns can ‘advance’ in two directions, possibly even opposite directions… but this might solve the problem mentioned with promotion, so it may not be a bad thing.

Closing Comments

This is just a random sort of idea I’ve had about a chess variant.  I haven’t actually tried it, but I think I might at some point.  If anyone else decides to give it a shot, let me know how it goes.


  1. Robin Leung

    Fun idea. Another possibility if you wanted to do the saving-the-king option might be to return the remains of your army to its starting position, probably requiring some minimum “point value” of the remaining forces to include a termination condition.

    Mostly just that I’m not sold on the idea that king is captured, pieces are removed, it makes sense to me that they’d head home to their farming lives or whatever.

    As per shorter field, I believe (could be wrong) that gaining control of the central area faster is better.

    Finally I could also see pawns’ movement becoming like rooks (usual two move first and en passant captures still exist?), capturing still diagonally.

  2. Heleatunda

    Many people have been experimenting with this for over a century; just Google it.

    I agree! with your idea of having four rows coming off each side; unfortunately, 99.9% of what I have seen online involves only 3 extra rows on each side. I’m looking around to see if I can get anyone to print a custom board for me.

    I’ve also heard of other ways of handling the first checkmate of the game. My favorite, which I also came up with on my own, is this: When you checkmate someone, he is frozen and his turn is skipped. On your next turn if no one else has liberated him, you can capture his king. Then you take control of his pieces on his turn.

    Also, I’ve seen some other examples:
    ‐ The defeated player’s pieces are just left on the board as a non‐moving dead forest that can be captured.

    ‐ (With allies) You have to keep the first enemy king in checkmate until the second one is also checkmated. As long as you are in checkmate you may not move, but your ally may end up liberating you. Some people add the rule that if you just got liberated, your pieces may not be captured until one turn after you have moved out of check.

    I like the idea of being able to promote a pawn to get your king back. Haven’t heard of it before!

    Also, I totally support the omnidirectional pawn idea; it just makes so much sense. I say let the pawn move 1 square orthogonally (2 from the starting rank) or capture 1 square diagonally. En passant can still easily apply.

    Cool story you got going here! I realize I’m like 6 years late to the discussion, but e‐mail me if you want to discuss ideas for other variations.

    • kjdavies

      Thanks for your interest, Heleatunda. You might have noticed that I don’t update this site very often (most of my time now is taken by other things), but it’s good to see people still read it.

      Some of the variations above look interesting. I went with four-rank sideboards because that kept the bottom-right corner the same color and gave a staging area. I suspect two ranks only would be a bit abrupt and the opening plays very consistent (I expect a lot of knight-slayings, one way or another).

      The dead forest idea for the slain kings is pretty cool, I think. I mostly try to avoid having games (I design other games) eliminate players, so I looked for ways for the loss of a king to be a disadvantage rather than a game-ender for that player.

      I’ll need to think more before commenting further.

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