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Capablanca chess

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Capablanca chess starting setup. The archbishops are on c1/c8; the chancellors on h1/h8.

Capablanca chess (or Capablanca's chess) is a chess variant invented in the 1920s by former World Chess Champion José Raúl Capablanca. It incorporates two new pieces and is played on a 10x8 board. Capablanca proposed the variant while World Champion, and not as a "sour grapes" rationalization after losing his title as some critics have asserted. He believed that chess would be played out in a few decades (meaning games between grandmasters would always end in draws). This threat of "draw death" for chess was his main motivation for creating a more complex and richer version of the game.

The new pieces have properties that enrich the game. For example, the archbishop by itself can checkmate a lone king (king in a corner, archbishop placed diagonally with one square in between).

Piece setup

Capablanca proposed two opening setups for Capablanca chess. In one opening setup, he proposed that the archbishop be placed between the bishop and the queen and that the chancellor be placed between the king and the king's bishop. This setup has the flaw that it leaves the pawn in front of the king's bishop undefended, allowing white to threaten mate on the first move.

He subsequently revised the opening setup so that the archbishop was between the queen's knight and bishop, and the chancellor was between the king's knight and bishop. He also experimented with 10x10 board sizes, where the pawns could move up to three squares on the initial move.

In his book The Adventure of Chess, Edward Lasker writes (p. 39):

...I played many test games with Capablanca, and they rarely lasted more than twenty or twenty-five moves. We tried boards of 10x10 squares and 10x8 squares, and we concluded that the latter was preferable because hand-to-hand fights start earlier on it.

Lasker was one of the few supporters. Hungarian grandmaster Géza Maróczy also played some games with Capablanca (who got the better of him). British champion William Winter thought that there were too many strong pieces, making the minor pieces less relevant.

The names for new pieces, Archbishop and Chancellor, were introduced by Capablanca himself. These names are still used in most modern variants of Capablanca chess.

Variants predating Capablanca chess

Capablanca was not the first person to add the Chancellor and the Archbishop to the normal chess set, though he is the most famous. Other attempts mostly differ only by the arrangement of pieces and the castling rules.

In 1617, Pietro Carrera published a book Il Gioco degli Scacchi, which contained a description of a chess variant played on 8x10 board. He placed new pieces between a rook and a knight. Chancellor was on the king's side and archbishop on the queen's side. Carrera used names champion instead of chancellor and centaur instead of archbishop. The game was largely forgotten after the death of the inventor.

In 1874, Henry Bird proposed a chess variant similar to Carrera's variant. The only significant difference was the opening setup. The chancellor was placed between the queen's bishop and queen and the archbishop was placed between the king's bishop and king. Bird used names guard instead of chancellor and equerry instead of archbishop.

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Carrera chess. Earliest chess variant on 8x10 board with archbishop and chancellor.
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Bird's chess. Another predecessor of Capablanca chess.

Variants postdating Capablanca chess

Omega Chess starting position

Capablanca chess has inspired a number of chess variants:

It is noteworthy that Embassy Chess uses a starting position identical to Grand chess adapted to a 10x8 board.

Another interesting recent development is Capablanca Random Chess, invented in 2004 by Reinhard Scharnagl. This game combines ideas of Fischer Random Chess and Capablanca chess. It also applies the principle which demands that all pawns in the starting positions are protected by at least one piece.

Variants using a different board

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Grand chess starting setup. The chancellors are on f2/f9; the archbishops on g2/g9.

There are also variants of Capablanca chess that do not use the standard 10x8 board. Grand chess is a popular chess variant invented by Dutch game designer Christian Freeling in 1984. It uses Capablanca chess pieces upon a larger, 10x10 board.

In 2007 Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan devised a variant (called Seirawan chess), which adds the two pieces to the standard game in a different manner. The player, after moving a piece (for example, a bishop) from the first rank, may immediately place either of the two pieces on the bishop's square. If the player moves all his eight officers without placing the Hawk or the Elephant (Seirawan's names for the Archbishop and the Chancellor, respectively), he forfeits his right to do so.

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