All-pawn chess

Lord Dunsany was an early 20th century fantasist whose writing inspired Tolkien, H. P. Lovecraft, and many others. He also invented a chess variant where one side has 32 pawns and no other pieces.

Chess pawns
Vad 7, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Lord Dunsany was one of the architects of modern fantasy writing. His short stories inspired almost every modern fantasist and a fair few other authors, including such luminaries as J. R. R. Tolkien, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Arthur C. Clarke, Jack Vance, Michael Moorcock, Gene Wolfe, Clark Ashton Smith… he pretty much created the bibliography of my teenage years. He was also a big chess fan.

Now, when I say “big chess fan” you may imagine a merely recreational interest, but Dunsany was the first name in Irish chess for many years: he set chess puzzles for The Times and – as part of a simultaneous play exhibition match – managed to play the world chess champion to a draw. One of my favourite contributions to world chess, though, was the chess variant now known as Dunsany’s chess.

Dunsany’s chess is played exactly like regular chess, but with a tiny set of variations. Black plays with a standard set of pieces; white plays only with pawns… 32 of them. Yes, white’s entire side of the board is full of pawns and nothing else. White wins the game if they successfully checkmate black. Black wins if they manage to capture every single one of those pawns.

החבלן, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Black moves first, and White cannot advance their pawns more than one step forwards at any time.

It’s a surprisingly fun variant. Black has to find a way to take pawns without losing pieces; white has to advance carefully without opening up any gaps for black to exploit. There’s an online version you can try out in the links below.

(End note: every source I can find claims that Dunsany invented this variant in 1942, but tracking down the original source for it has proven to be much more difficult. Consider this origin story plausible but unverified until you hear otherwise!)

[Via Futility Closet]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s