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Improving Chess with Super X Chess

by Miika Pihkala on 11/28/18 02:06:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Chess is in Trouble

Chess fans are complaining after all 12 classical games ended in draw during World Chess Championship 2018 match. Opening preparations with computers are like doping for chess. It's sad how these brilliant chess minds are forced to compete in opening preparations to get an edge over the competition. I'm feeling like Magnus Carlsen himself made a statement with his draw offer on the game 12 that he also thinks that classical chess is dying slowly and is pretty dead already. The slow dying happens when chess at the top becomes longer and longer prearranged opening preparations. It has been a very common topic among chess fans: How to renew chess and fix it? I've made a chess game, which also happens to address the problems that chess fans are experiencing with chess as a spectator sport.

Rules of Super X Chess

It's very beneficial to watch this for a minute to understand the rule changes in Super X Chess and to follow along this article:

Elegant Design

First of all, it's possible to play Super X Chess like classic chess if you want to because classic chess rules are a subset of rules in Super X Chess. In Super X Chess there's 9 more possible chess pieces and these pieces will appear elegantly in only some of the games and spice up the game.

Super X Chess works as a design because of its game balance and trade-offs. The new move of combining pieces can be the best move in the position, but many times it isn't the best move, because there are also trade-offs to consider while doing it. Some of the things to consider when combining pieces:

1. You lose time from developing the position as you end up having the piece at the same position after combining pieces.

2. Having powerful pieces enables the opponent to threat them and provide free positional development at the same time.

3. You lose in the number of your pieces, which can be a bad thing when you need more attacks to the same square.

Designing the New Pieces

The pieces where the logic doesn't naturally emerge from the properties of the pieces were the difficult part of the design - - this means Pawn+Pawn, Rook+Rook, Knight+Knight and Bishop+Bishop pieces.

I tried to make the Knight+Knight approximately as strong piece as Bishop+Knight piece and I feel like I managed to do it. I tried to make Rook+Rook piece stronger than the other pieces, but not overpowered. Also it is important that the pieces keep some weaknesses, so Knight+Knight still can't attack any adjacent squares and Rook+Rook can be weak if not in open position.

Fundamental Changes

There's no more closed positions that can't be turned open positions in few moves. Even in seemingly closed positions, there's faster and easier ways to open up the position. This also means that castling does not provide as much protection to the king as it used to, since opening lines is quick and easy in Super X Chess. Although there are also more defensive resources available, which balances things out a bit.

There's also strength in keeping threats in the air in chess, including keeping uncombined pieces in positions where they could get combined with a move or two. For example, the two rooks in the same file or rank is a very powerful pattern in chess, but in Super X Chess this pattern is even more devastating, because of the additional threat of getting combined to Rook+Rook piece. Rook+Rook can mate the King just by itself if King is in the center of an open board. It's a kind of a death ray, pretty devastating in the endgame.

Less Draws

Let's look at what could happen after a few Caruana vs Carlsen WCC games, if the rules would be changed to Super X Chess just a moment before a draw is announced as a result.

Game 2 of Carlsen vs Caruana WCC drawn end position as the starting position:

Game 4 of Carlsen vs Caruana WCC with drawn end position as the starting position:

It can be concluded that on Super X Chess there's more to play and chances to win even with less material left on the board. In classic chess the draw percentage gets higher and higher the more skilled both chess players are. This drawing percentage gets reduced in Super X Chess.

More Intuition and Creativity

To measure the game's complexity, the concept of branching factor is used. The average branching factor of chess has been said to be about 35. It means that on average it should be possible to make 35 different moves when it's your turn to move in a game of chess. In Super X Chess this average branching factor is approximately 5 to 10 moves higher than in chess, because of the combination moves and new pieces. For example, at the start of a chess game there's 20 possible first moves, but at the start of Super X Chess, there's 30 possible moves. Next I'll provide some more detail on how the branching factor works all the way to 5 moves deep (plies).

Number of possible move sequences at the start of the game:

Classic Chess

ply 1: 20
ply 2: 400
ply 3: 8902 
ply 4: 197 281
ply 5: 4 865 609

Super X Chess

ply 1: 30
ply 2: 900
ply 3: 29 418
ply 4: 958 779
ply 5: 33 554 815

 

Number of unique positions from the start of the game:

Classic Chess
 
ply 1: 20
ply 2: 400
ply 3: 5 362
ply 4: 72 078
ply 5: 822 518
Super X Chess
 
ply 1: 30
ply 2: 900
ply 3: 17 719
ply 4: 350 297
ply 5: 5 672 350

 

In very skilled chess player's mind, most ideas are found bad for number of reasons, but one of the common one is that they are too slow. In Super X Chess the same holds true, but there's even more of those ideas to consider as the game complexity has increased. When the game complexity increases that benefits the intuitive thinking more than conscious reasoning. So the chess thinking process shifts to intuitive thinking when the game complexity is increased. This happens also when the time-limit is restricted. This makes Super X Chess more about creativity and intuition than the traditional chess.

The increases in game complexity also help with the opening preparation problems in classic chess. I've also added Super 960 mode to the game, which randomizes the opening positions like chess 960 as it makes the opening preparations unfeasible. On the other hand the study of chess in all of its forms, including openings is important for many chess players. That's why the standard classic chess starting position is also the starting position in Super X Chess - - it's more a double edged sword than a purely negative trait for the game to have this memorization of opening preparation in the game. If some day there is opening theory of Super X Chess, then it's going to still be very far-fetched idea that it would be such a problem as it is today for top level chess, because of the increased branching factor and complexity of the game. And because it's far-fetched that Super X Chess gets even remotely as popular as classic chess.

Historical Changes

Chess has evolved over time for many times and what currently is the standard form isn't that necessarily in the future. For example, it was only at the middle ages, when the queen became a very powerful piece. When the power of the queen increased, so increased that how easy it was to deliver checkmate and it also shortened the length of the game. Super X Chess is aligned well in this same trend with its idea of having the ability to combine pieces.

It's not to say that Super X Chess doesn't sacrifice something to create all these positive effects to the game of chess. It's a beautiful art in itself to open up positions. Common strategy to open up the positions is to try to provoke pawn "hooks" which are opponent's pawn advances, which enable the other player to force open lines that suit their game plan. Super X Chess is sacrificing some of this beauty of the game with the rule changes, but at the same time adding plentiful of other interesting ideas to the game.

Conclusion

I think that Super X Chess manages to improve the game of chess and I'm very proud of it. The game is available on steam and here is a link to the store page:

https://store.steampowered.com/app/814990

Even though you didn't learn to play chess better from this article, I hope that it provided some food for your own thoughts and maybe got you more exited about games such as chess. I think that appreciating chess in all of its different forms means the same thing as appreciating yourself. More specifically it means appreciating your creativity, your thinking, your imagination, your intuition and your insight. That is why it's useful for your life. That is why life is like a game of chess.  :)

 


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