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Frisco Del Rosario writes about chess960, women's basketball, minor league baseball, unsupported collectible card games, lettering in comic books, and Golden Age movies

Basic Knightmare Chess Endings #8: Charge! 05/03/2019

59347718_10157337186462853_2174849337069142016_nI wrote on FB a day ago that everyone (but me, it seems) hated Knightmare Chess.

The chessplayers hate the card game because the cards are ridiculously overpowered. For example, Guardian is a 3-cost KC card with the capability of turning a most simple draw into a decision (the bishop-plus-wrong-rook-pawn endgame, which any serious chessplayer knows). That’s a 3-point card swinging a half-point in a most reduced position. Imagine what the 10-cost cards do in complex middlegames.

The non-chessplaying card gamers wouldn’t pick up Knightmare Chess because they figured their lack of chess ability would matter. That *should* be true, but Steve Jackson Games overcompensated for that by making most of the cards gamebreakers. And if that’s the case, why bother with a card game that needs so many prop objects, let’s play Munchkin. (I love Munchkin, Steve Jackson Games’ successful card game. The thing about Munchkin is that you mustn’t care if you win, which is true of many of today’s games; the play is the thing.)

I love Knightmare Chess, maybe because I’m the only chessplayer who bothered to reduce the positions to endgames. Other chessplayers figured correctly that the cards will prevent endgame knowledge from mattering, but the chess teacher in me said whether the games get there or not, in order to understand the true value of the cards (and pieces) is to strip the positions to nothing but. This is what’s wrong with so many chessplayers. They don’t bother learning endings because they figure if they lose in the middlegame or opening, what’s the difference. Those players can’t get past a Class A rating, trust me.

Let’s look at Charge!, a 6-cost card that enables a knight to make an additional hop. This means if your opponent plays the dreaded Harrstrom Gambit 1. Nf3 g5, your 2. Nxg5 is threatening to win the queen if you’re holding Charge!. Charge! almost doubles a knight’s mobility for one turn, which is pretty huge, hence the 6-cost.

diagram-7And in the case of this endgame, which is a draw with White to move, it’s a win with Charge!, because Charge! fixes the knight’s fundamental enggame flaw: its inability to change the tempo. When White plays 1. Ne7 Charge! Nd5, he’s successfully lost a tempo, giving the move to Black, who has to play 1…Kb8, then 2. Nc7 gains control of the queening square.

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Categories: Knightmare Chess

Basic Knightmare Chess Endings #7: Guardian 04/06/2018

screenshot-from-2018-04-05-11-28-46King plus one pawn vs. king is essential chess knowledge, else one can’t win or draw games with the smallest  possible material imbalance remaining.

The serious student becomes familiar with the rook-pawn-plus-wrong-colored-bishop endgame early, because while one is learning K+P vs. K, teachers like to mention the unusual exception where an extra bishop won’t help:


White can’t gain control of the queening square, and the game is drawn. Its most famous occurrence was from the Fischer-Taimanov candidates match in 1971:


Black could draw by 1…Nd3 plus 2…Nf4 to stop the pawn, and if the white king moves to f5 to kick the knight, Black abandons it with …Kd6! then reaching h8.

The unusual nature of the wrong-bishop-plus-rook-pawn endgame makes Guardian interesting. A practical application in the first diagram: White wins by playing Guardian, combining a2-a3 plus Ba1-a2, changing the bishop to the correct-colored square. Then Ba2-d5 and a3-a4-a5-a6-a7-a8Q.

A more likely situation for Guardian is in an ending with bishops on opposite-colored squares. Most of those are draws, even when the strong side is ahead by several pawns. For example:


If White plays 1. a7, Black’s white-square blockade is bulletproof, and if 1. b7, then 1…Bxb7 draws. Guardian turns the game into a win for White because 1. a7 is accompanied by Ba5-a6!

Opposite-colored bishop endgames are common. I played this yesterday:


If my opponent playing Black held the Guardian card, he could play …Bg4-e6-d5, then Guardian to enable his bishop to counter mine, and win. I’m glad that didn’t happen.

Card text: Move one of your pawns forward (you may move two squares if the pawn is on the second rank). Your piece which was just behind the pawn may follow, so it remains directly behind. Your pawn is thus protected from en passant capture.

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Categories: Knightmare Chess

Basic Knightmare Chess Endings #6: The Heir 02/03/2018

20180203_205836-1-1The game-changing cards in Knightmare Chess come with maximum card values of 10. I have a feeling Heir* from the Knightmare 2 set is worth more than 10.

The defensive power of Heir is incalculable, because an heir’s presence allows you to ignore check

If I played a game of Knightmare Chess with a deck limit of n*10 points, I’d consider a deck of n Heirs, and perhaps expect to be accused of exploiting overpowered cards.

The offensive power of Heir is excellent. We generally consider the king’s mobility equal to a knight’s mobility — both pieces move in straight lines (if you don’t see knight moves as straight lines, learn that) of eight directions, but the king is limited to one square, while the knight  moves two squares distant but only to opposite-colored squares (twice the range, half the square color).

However, the heir’s compact movement improves on both the knight and the bishop for close fighting. The knight can be attacked from any square around it, while the bishop can be biffed from the adjacent opposite-colored squares.
In other words, the standard minor pieces are vulnerable at closest range, but the heir is rock solid. In fact, the heir’s mobility makes it possible to checkmate the enemy king with king plus heir. Usually, the minimum amount of force needed to checkmate the king is knight-plus-bishop (they cover each other’s weakness):


But the heir  is as good as a queen for checkmate.
The checkmating procedure is ridiculously simple: Draw a five-square corner around the enemy king, and every time the enemy king moves, redraw the cornering pattern accordingly.
I don’t have to find another symbol to stand for the heir, since their abilities are exactly the same — they are both kings, and are  both heirs.
1. Kee2 Kd5 2. Kc2 Ke5 3. Kc3 Kd5 4. Kf3 Ke5 5. Kc4 Kf5 6. Kd5 Kf6  7. Kf4 Kg6 8. Ke6  Kg7 9. Kg5 Kf8 10. Kg6 Kg8  11. Kef7+ Kh8 12. Kfg7#

Relative power of the pieces
Queen: 9 pawns
Royal knight: 7
Amazon: 7
Princess: 6
Paladin: 6
Rook: 5
Bishop: 3
Knight: usually a little less than the bishop
Heir: Mobility equal to the knight, but its real value— like the king — can’t be numbered.
Central pawns: maybe a bit more than 1
Wing pawns: about 1
*Card text: Play this card when your king’s starting square is unoccupied. Place another king on that square. You can now leave one of your kings in check, or even let your opponent capture it You lose the game only when your last king is checkmate.

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Categories: Knightmare Chess

Basic Knightmare Chess Endings #5: The Amazon 01/30/2018


Amazon* is the last of the Knightmare Chess v. 1.0 cards that modify an existing piece to form a new one. Transforming an enemy queen into an amazon at the cost of card value 5 is supposed to be a demotion, but look at how smoothly the amazon (played by Lynda Carter) coordinates with the king to checkmate:

1. Ae7+ Kb8 2. Kb6 Ka8 3. Ac8! Kb8 4. Aa7+ Ka8 5. Ac6#

From the center of the board:

1. Af3+ Kf5 2. Ad4+

The beauty of this piece is that since it combines the power of bishop and knight, it performs exactly like a knight plus a bishop of the same-colored square, which is exactly what you want in the knight-plus-bishop mate!

2. … Kg4 3. Ae6+ Kg3 4. Af5+! Kg2 5. Ke2 Kh2 6. Kf2 Kh1 7. Ag3#

One thing the queen can do that the amazon cannot is push the enemy king to the edge of the board on her own. There’s always a hole in front of (or beside) her, so when she cuts off as much of the king’s mobility as possible — four squares — the king steps into that hole, attacking the amazon.:

The amazon’s piece value is obviously 7. The queen (9) equals rook plus bishop (5 + 3 + 1 for compactness). The amazon (7) equals knight plus bishop (3 + 3 + 1).

Why would you ever play with this card? At the card cost of 5, it casts the same spell over your queen as well as your opponent’s. and it does not change its ability to checkmate with the king.

If Knightmare Chess were a game that anyone was actually playing, that’s what this writing is for — like my writings about NetRunner, which cards are worth a fig, and which aren’t?

*Card text: All queens become amazons for the rest of the game, which move as a knight or a bishop. Continuing effect until all amazons are removed from play.

Relative power of the pieces
Queen: 9 pawns
Royal knight: 7
Amazon: 7
Princess: 6
Paladin: 6
Rook: 5
Bishop: 3
Knight: usually a little less than the bishop
Central pawns: maybe a bit more than 1
Wing pawns: about 1

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Basic Knightmare Chess Endings #4: The Paladin


The paladin* holds this potential. On an empty chessboard, a paladin hits these squares (marked by the South Park Phone Destroyer character Paladin Butters):
That’s 26 squares. A queen hits 27 squares from the center of an empty board, the paladin hits 26, and keeps the knight’s ability to leap over other pieces. Only the requirement that its first hop land on a vacant square prevent Paladin from a higher card value than 7.

Isn’t the first question that comes to mind about Paladin whether the modified piece can checkmate with a bishop?

The first adjustment is that the paladin — because it influences squares of its own color — should work opposite the bishop (whereas the knight operates best on same-colored squares as the bishop because it influences the opposite color).  Then we find that the paladin doesn’t work as well in the corner as the knight:
With Black to move (1. Pb4+ was White’s move), 1…Ka8 2. Nc7# is mate, but White can’t keep the net closed after 1…Kc8. 2. Kc6? is stalemate. 2. Pd5+ checks, and covers d7, but 2…Kb8 3. Pb4+ is perpetual.

The weird problem with the paladin-plus-bishop operation is illustrated by shifting the white king to c6 (covering d7):


Then 1…Ka8 2. Nc7+ isn’t checkmate because the king blocks the paladin’s influence over a7 (and you can’t remove the white king from the neighborhood because someone has to watch b7).

Still, the paladin can be an awesome piece. Paladin-plus-paladin by themselves can checkmate in the center of the board:

Yes, that’s checkmate.

Figuring the paladin’s pawn value: On an empty board, let’s say 26 (paladin squares) divided by 8 (knight squares) equals 3.25. Times 3 (knight value) equals 9.75, which is in the queen’s ballpark, so that works. Say on the average, half of the paladin’s first-hop squares are blocked, so call it 9.75 divided by 2 equals 4.875. Then round up to account for its leaping ability to make 5, and give it a bonus point because you can play Paladin pn an opponent’s knight — if an opponent is checkmating with bishop and knight; turn it into a paladin, and the game is drawn.

Call it 6, which is twice the value of a knight (duh), and the same value as the princess (whose card value is one less than the paladin).

Relative power of the pieces
Queen: 9 pawns
Royal knight: 7
Princess: 6
Paladin: 6
Rook: 5
Bishop: 3
Knight: usually a little less than the bishop
Central pawns: maybe a bit more than 1
Wing pawns: about 1

*Card text: One of your knights, or an opponent’s knight, becomes a paladin. It now moves by making two knight jumps in a row, and the first jump must be to an unoccupied square. Play immediately after your move, effect continues until paladin is lost.

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Basic Knightmare Chess Endings #3: Annexation 01/25/2018

20180125_210525-1When I thought Knightmare Chess could be a successful, popular game, I imagined tournaments would be stratified like Magic: The Gathering events: superpowered Type I cards allowed in some tournaments, barred from others.

Chessplayers who wanted to rely on superior ches ability at Knightmare Chess would favor events permitting the least card value. If a tournament allowed the 10-point Knightmare Chess cards — total game-changers — the chessplayers would avoid those.

The chessplayers would want to limit the points allowed in decks, or ban cards with game-changer values.

At Knightmare Chess, the chessplayers are hoping to make better use of cards like Annexation*. Valued at just three points, Annexation is a game-changer after the chess game is reduced to its simplest form: the pawn endgame.
Without Annexation, this position is a draw. On the other hand, playing Annexation to enable 1. g6! is a win for White.
Without Annexation, it’s a draw. Annexation followed by 1. g6 plus 1. h6! is a win.

Say two players agreedto play Knightmare Chess with no card valued greater than 3. It’s the better chessplayers who take advantage of cards like Annexation.

*Card text: Move one or two of your pawns forward, two squares each.

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Basic Knightmare Chess Endings #2: The Royal Knight 01/23/2018

20180123_175956-1The royal knight* is crazy good for close fighting. It has an ability that even the queen lacks: the power to stalemate an enemy king outside the corners, unassisted.
With help, the royal knight can stalemate a king in the center.
As long as the strong side avoids stalemate, checkmating with the royal knight is easy.
1. Nd5+ plus the play of Royal Knight


1…Kd7 2. Kf6 Kd8

2…Ke8 3. RNe7#.

3. Ke6 Kc8 4. Kd6 Kb7

4…Kd8 5. RNc7# or 5. RNe7#.

5. RNc5+ Kb8

5…Ka7 6. Kc7 Ka8 7. RNb7#

6. Kc6 Ka8 7. RNb7#

The royal knight can subvert famous patterns. With a regular knight on g5, nearly everyone knows this as mate in 5, but with a royal knight, it’s mate in 2.


*Card text: One of your knights becomes a royal knight, which moves as either a knight or king.

Relative power of the pieces
Queen: 9 pawns
Royal knight: 7
Princess: 6
Rook: 5
Bishop: 3
Knight: usually a little less than the bishop
Central pawns: maybe a bit more than 1
Wing pawns: about 1

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Categories: Knightmare Chess

Basic Knightmare Chess Endings #1: The Princess

Knightmare Chess, a 1998 offering from Steve Jackson Games, didn’t catch on, probably for reasons like:

1) Chessplayers hated insane card-based abilities that made Knightmare Chess too much unlike chess; and

2) Non-chessplayers figured they didn’t stand a chance against chessplayers (before giving the hugely unbalancing card-based abilities a glance).

Perhaps Knightmare Chess’ time has arrived. Chess variants are more popular than ever, especially since online chess servers began enabling enthusiasts of obscure variants to find and play with like-minded folk.

Card games are in again, after the glut of the 1990s — when a new card game appeared in game stores every week, and no one had the money or the time. Magic: The Gathering is still boss, my favorite old game NetRunner is a success in its new (lesser) incarnation, Dominion is a favorite at my brother’s house, and I’ve embraced South Park: Phone Destroyer.

The classic chess textbook Chess Fundamentals by world champion Capablanca said the first thing the new player should do is familiarize himself with the power of the pieces by learning to checkmate with them. Meet the princess (card text*).
The princess moves like a queen, but is limited to one or two squares. This makes her value on the pawn scale about 6, when you think about it this way: The king and the knight each have eight choices while in the center of an empty chessboard; the princess’ one-square moves makes her like a king, and her two-square moves are the same range as a knight, but to the same-colored square rather than an opposite-colored square.

Since her pawn value is about 6, then the princess (more powerful than a rook) ought to be able to aid her king in checkmating the other.

1. … Qe4+!
Played with the Princess card, placing her at f4.


2. Kg1 Qxh1+ 3. Kxh1 Ke3 4. Kg2 Ph4


5. Kg1 Kf3 6. Kh1

6. Kf1 Pf2#.

6…Ph3+ 7. Kg1 Pg2#

In fact, the procedure is exactly like the clunky “keep the queen a knight’s distance away from the enemy king, cutting off one  rank or file with each move” — the only difference between the queen and princess for the purposes of this checkmating routine is that the queen can make a long cutoff move.

* Play this card when your king and queen are on adjacent squares. A princess appears on an unoccupied square adjacent to the queen. A princess moves like a queen but only one or two squares at a time. A player may have only one princess in play at a time. Play this card immediately after your move.

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Categories: games Knightmare Chess