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Fairy chess piece

A fairy chess piece or unorthodox chess piece is a chess piece not used in conventional chess, but used in certain chess variants and some chess problems.

Table of contents

Classification of fairy pieces

Most fairy pieces fall into one of three classes, although it should be noted that some are hybrid pieces (see the Chinese pieces, for example, which move as riders, but capture as hoppers) and others do not fall into this scheme at all:

Leapers

A leaper is a piece which moves a fixed distance and which can jump over any pieces between its departure and destination squares. A leaper's move is usually described by giving the number of squares it moves horizontally and vertically per move. For example, the knight in orthodox chess is a (2,1) leaper, meaning it moves two squares in one direction (horizontally or vertically) and one square in the other (note that it could also be described as a (1,2) leaper - there is no significance to the order of the numbers).

In shatranj, a forerunner to chess, the pieces which were later replaced by the bishop and queen were also leapers: the alfil was a (2,2) leaper (moving exactly two squares diagonally in any direction), and the fers a (1,1) leaper (that is, it can move one square diagonally in any direction).

Some leapers can chose between several different lengths of move - the king in orthodox chess, for example, which can move one square in any direction, could be considered a (1,1) or (1,0) leaper.

Leapers are not able to create pins, although they are often effective forking pieces.

Riders

A rider is a piece which can move an unlimited distance in one direction, providing there are no pieces in the way.

There are three riders in orthodox chess: the rook can move an unlimited number of (1,0) cells and is therefore a (1,0) rider; the bishop is a (1,1) rider; and the queen is a (1,1) or (1,0) rider.

The most popular fairy chess rider is the nightrider, which can make an unlimited number of knight moves (that is, 2,1 cells) in any direction (though, like other riders, it cannot change direction half-way through its move).

The names of riders are often obtained by taking the name of a leaper which moves a similar cell-size and adding the suffix rider. For example, the zebra is a (3,2) leaper, and the zebrarider is a (3,2) rider (though note that a knight (a (2,1) leaper) becomes a nightrider (without an initial K) not a knightrider.

Riders can create both pins and skewers.

Hoppers

A hopper is a piece which moves by jumping over another piece (this intervening piece is called a hurdle). Unless it can jump over a piece, it cannot move.

There are no hoppers in orthodox chess, although in xiangqi, the cannon captures as a hopper (when not capturing, it is a rider - the so-called Chinese pieces (see below) share this characteristic).

The most popular hopper in fairy chess is the grasshopper, which moves along the same lines as an orthodox queen, except that it must hop over some other piece and land on the square immediately beyond it.

Note that hoppers generally capture by taking the piece on the destination square, not by taking the hurdle (as is the case in checkers). An exception is the locust.

Royal pieces

A royal piece is one which cannot be allowed to be threatened with capture. If a royal piece is threatened with capture and cannot avoid capture next move, then the game is lost (this is checkmate). In orthodox chess, each side has one royal piece, the king. In fairy chess any other orthodox piece or fairy piece may instead be designated royal, there may be more than one royal piece, or there may no royal pieces at all (in which case the aim of the game must be something other than to deliver checkmate).

List of orthodox and fairy chess pieces

  • Alfil: a (2,2) leaper. Found in shatranj.

  • Amazon: a piece combining the powers of the queen and the knight. Also known as a maharaja.

  • Andernach grasshopper: a grasshopper which changes the colour of the hurdle it leaps over. Also known as a chopper. See also Andernach chess.

  • Berolina pawn: a piece which moves one square diagonally forward (except on its first move, when it may move two), but captures by moving one square straight forward. Compare with pawn.

  • Bishop: a (1,1) rider. Found in orthodox chess.

  • Camel: a (3,1) leaper.

  • Cannon: see pao.

  • Cardinal: a piece combining the powers of bishop and knight. Also called a princess.

  • Chancellor: another name for the empress.

  • Chinese pieces: a collective name for pieces derived from units found in xiangqi, the Chinese form of chess. The most common Chinese pieces are the leo, pao and vao (each of which are drevied from the Chinese cannon) and the mao (derived from the horse). Those derived from the cannon are distinguished by moving as a leaper when capturing, but otherwise moving as a rider. Less frequenly encountered Chinese pieces include the moa, nao and rao.

  • Chopper: another name for the Andernach grasshopper.

  • Dabbabba: a (2,0) leaper.

  • Elephant: A (2,2) leaper, but it cannot jump over an intervening piece, like the mao. In Chinese Chess, the elephant is restricted to its half of the board.

  • Empress: a piece combining the powers of the rook and knight. Also called an chancellor.

  • Fers: a piece which can move one square in any direction diagonally; it can be considered a (1,1) leaper. Found in shatranj.

  • Giraffe: a (4,1) leaper.

  • Grasshopper: a hopper which moves along the same lines as a queen and lands on the square immediately beyond that of the hurdle. One of the most popular fairy pieces.

  • King: a piece which can move one square in any direction; it could be considered a (1,0) or (1,1) leaper. Found in orthodox chess, when it is royal. A non-royal piece which moves in this way is sometimes called a Mann.

  • Knight: a (2,1) leaper. Found in orthodox chess.

  • Knighted piece: any piece which, in addition to its normal powers, can move like a knight. For example, an amazon is a knighted queen.

  • Kraken: a piece which can leap to any square on the board, including the one it is currently on (leaping to the current square has the effect of passing a move). Compare with universal leaper.

  • Leo: a Chinese piece which combines the powers of the pao and vao; it is therefore a piece which moves like a queen when not capturing (that is, a (1,0) or (1,1) rider), but captures by leaping over an intervening piece and taking the piece on the leo's destination square (the captured piece can be any number of squares beyond the hurdle).

  • Lion: a hopper which moves along the same lines as a queen and which can land on a sqaure any distance beyond the hurdle.

  • Locust: any piece which captures by hopping over its victim (as in draughts).

  • Maharaja: another name for an Amazon.

  • Mao: a Chinese piece which moves like a knight except that it does not leap. It first moves one square orthogonally in any direction, and then continues in the same general direction one square diagonally. The square it is on after its orthogonal move must be vacant. For example, if a white mao is on b2 and there is a white pawn on b3, the mao cannot move to a4 or c4; if the pawn is on c3, however, it can move to both those squares (because the first part of the move is orthogonal, not diagonal).

  • Moa: as the mao, but the first step is diagonal and the second orthogonal, not the other way round.

  • Nao: a Chinese nightrider - that is, a piece which moves as a normal nightrider (that is, a (2,1) rider) when not capturing, but which captures by leaping over an intervening piece and taking the piece on the nao's destination square (the captured piece can be any number of knight-moves beyond the hurdle).

  • Nightrider: A rider which moves any number of 2,1 cells (ie, knight moves) in the same direction). A nightrider on b2 on an empty board, therefore, can move to a4, c4, d5, e7, d3, f4, h5 and d1. A pawn of the opposing colour on d5 could be captured, but the nightrider could not move any further in that direction. A pawn on, for example, b3, would have no effect. One of the most popular fairy pieces.

  • Pao: a Chinese piece which moves like a rook when not capturing (that is, a (1,0) rider), but captures by leaping over an intervening piece and taking the piece on the pao's destination square (the captured piece can be any number of squares beyond the hurdle). Found in xiangqi (in which context it is normally known in English as a cannon).

  • Pawn: one of the pieces in orthodox chess which moves one square straight forward (except on its first move, when it may move two squares), but captures one square forward diagonally. Compare with Berolina pawn.

  • Princess: another name for the cardinal.

  • Queen: a (1,0) or (1,1) rider. Combines the powers of the bishop and rook. Found in orthodox chess.

  • Rao: a Chinese rose - that is, a piece which moves as a normal rose when not capturing, but which captures by leaping over an intervening piece and taking the piece on the rao's destination square (the captured piece can be any distance beyond the hurdle).

  • Rook: a (1,0) rider. Found in orthodox chess.

  • Rose: a piece which moves as a nightrider, except that rather than moving in a straight line, it moves along pseudo-circular ones. A rose standing on e1 on an empty board, for instance, can move to any of the squares on the large circle c2, b4, c6, e7, g6, h4 and g2; as well as d3 and b4; or d3, e5 and g6 and so on. As with the nightrider, an opposite-coloured piece on any one of these squares can be captured, but prevents the rose from progressing any further along that line.

  • Universal leaper: a piece which can leap to any square on the board apart from the one it is on. Compare with kraken.

  • Vao: a Chinese piece which moves like a bishop when not capturing (that is, a (1,1) rider), but captures by leaping over an intervening piece and taking the piece on the vao's destination square (the captured piece can be any number of squares beyond the hurdle).

  • Wazir: a piece which can move one square orthogonally in any direction; it can be considered a (1,0) leaper.

  • Zebra: a (3,2) leaper.


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