Four Player Chess - Introduction
When we speak of chess, we usually imagine 2 players facing off in a battle of creative tactics and strategy. But Chess 4 offers the next level of chess fun: 4 players facing off in a wild, chaotic melee. The normal strategies for chess are of little to no use here. A player new to chess should not attempt Chess 4, but an experienced chess player will find the following insights to be helpful. Be warned: good players can often look bad, and bad players can look brilliant.
The Chess 4 board has some additions to accommodate 2 new sets of pieces. Each side of the board has 3x8 squares added. The first two ranks of this area are the home rows. Pieces are set as in a normal chess game, with the exception that the King always sits to the left of the Queen, regardless of color. Two new colors of pieces have been added to the game: silver and gold. Viewing the board from white's position, black is opposite, while silver is to the left and gold is to the right.
Standard chess notation can be used for the center 8x8 squares of the board, where a1 is the left near corner and h8 is the far right corner. But the 3x8 home area for each color requires something new. I use a small letter in parenthesis to indicate the home area where a move has occurred, and I use coordinates a-h and 1-3. Example: When playing white, if I moved the King's pawn one space, I would use the following notation: (w)d2-(w)d3. If moving the King's pawn two spaces, I would use the following: (w)d2-d1. For the other colors use (b) for black, (s) for silver, and (g) for gold.
To play Chess 4 well, the playing area needs to be re-evaluated. When playing chess, the four center squares are critical spaces. With Chess 4, the center of the board, consisting of sixteen squares, will be largely unused until very late in the game. Most action will take place on the flanks, which means to the corners of your position. For white, this means that most of the action will involve both silver and gold. In most of my Chess 4 games, I haven't put a piece in the center (16 squares) until after move 30 or so. Those who do are inviting multiple attacks and almost certain disaster.
With Chess 4, the power of the pieces must also be rethought. Because most action will take place diagonally, Bishops become almost as powerful as Rooks. The Rooks are best left until at least one player has been removed by checkmate. This will free up minor pieces to support the Rook. On the other hand, the large size of the board causes Knights to lose some of their power. While they can quickly engage the near flank opponent, moving across the board requires no less than 7 moves. Rarely will the Knight in shining armor ride to the rescue in Chess 4. Thankfully, the Queen retains her power, but she will now be attacked by 3 entire armies. Caution is the word when playing the Queen. However, since your pieces will almost certainly be split between your two flanks, those flank attacks will need the Queen's added punch for success.
Now let's examine some basic tactics. Pawn moves have been hyper-analyzed in normal chess, and they deserve some analysis for Chess 4. As with chess, a good opening move is the d pawn. This move will give your kingside Bishop and Queen freedom to move. Beware moving the c and e pawns. These moves will open direct lines to your King. The c and e pawns here are the rough equivalent of the f pawn in chess; move them and weaken your King. If you must move your e pawn to release your queenside Bishop, first move your f pawn one space to block the open line against your King.
Common chess wisdom teaches that any pawn move weakens some squares. While this is true, moving the a or h pawn one space attacks a square in your opponent's home area. This strengthens your position if you can make the move before your opponent does. The b and g pawns are also valid pawn moves. These moves will release your Bishops to the hypermodern fianchetto formation. As in chess, the Chess 4 finachetto attacks an opponent's Rook along a long diagonal (11 squares) and controls that diagonal.
Beware moving your pawns too far in the Opening or Middle Game. Pawns in the center are difficult to defend, even with a strong pawn formation. The area to cover is too great and the threats too many. Also beware exchanging pieces. While you may capture the same material that you lose, there are two more players who haven't lost that material.
Any chess player with a bit of experience has heard of, tried, or been the victim of the Scholar's Mate, the 4-move checkmate with the Queen at f2 or f7. I have found the equivalent maneuvers in Chess 4. It is possible to checkmate either flank opponent in 5 moves, and you can checkmate both in 9 moves.
White to mate Gold in 5 moves:
1. N(w)g1 - (w) h3
2. N(w)h3 - f1
3. (w)f2 - (w)f3
4. Nf1 - h2
5. Q(w)e1 - (g)c2 ++
White to mate Silver in 5 moves:
1. (w)f2 - (w)f3
2. (w)d2 - (w)d3
3. B(w)c1 - (w)e3
4. Q(w)e1 - (w)f2
5. B(w)e3 - (s)c2 ++
White to mate both gold and silver in 9 moves:
1. N(w)g1 - (w)h3
2. N(h3) - f1
5. Q(w)e1 - (g)c2 ++
6. Q(g)c2 - (w)f2
7. (w)d2 - (w)d3
8. B(w)c1 - (w)e3
9. B(w)e3 - (s)c2 ++
Finally, I offer some general considerations for your game. For a defensive game, play positional chess and evaluate all 3 opponents often. For an offensive game, you will need your Queen early; keep a sharp eye for threats. Watch for sneak attacks, both for and against you. Especially watch for the chance to checkmate with another player's help; if you seal the mate, you get the credit for it. Don't lose track of the action on both of your flanks. Be aware that a check on a target can be negated by a different opponent before the target's next turn. Be prepared to look stupid because you missed an attack; it happens to the best of us when playing Chess 4.