Alice Chess

 Michael J. Farris  10/20/2004  7 comments 

Nasmichael discusses this fascinating chess variant, using Nimzowitsch's System to analyse a recent tournament held on

Alice Chess

"The greatest perfection seems imperfect, and yet its use is inexhaustible.
The greatest fullness seems empty, and yet its use is endless.
The greatest straightness looks like crookedness.
The greatest skill appears clumsy.
The greatest eloquence sounds like stammering."
--Tao Te Ching, "45", Master Lao Tzu, trans. by John C.H. Wu

Chess fans everywhere can find a great joy in the variants offered up by the players who love and cherish the game. The variants at their best enhance the board vision and the gaming experience of the players; for a proper perspective, remember that our standard game itself is a variant of Shatranj, its parent game and ancestor (see the excellent article here at SchemingMind by Miguel Villa, "The Time of Shatranj and the Aliyat"); this our standard captured the imagination of players as it was exposed to them, to the degree that it surpassed its parent. Alice Chess, created by Vernon Parton in 1958, retains the essence of the gameplay, but invests the game with an ingenuity and a power unavailable in our standard. We will discuss its contributions and offer some examples of gameplay from a recent tournament played here online.

The Game IDs for the examples come from: The tournament is called "Curiouser and Curiouser". The games:

Game ID 3163 TheGreatPolgar v Sythymesnos, move 28
  3164 Tulkos(Aaron Jagt) v Sythymesnos, 3 move mate
  3043 Nasmichael v Andreas, move 10-11, key for mate by bishop.
  3159 Sythymesnos v TheGreatPolgar, Black R + Q oppose Q on g-file.
  3051 Nasmichael v TheGreatPolgar, move 14, Queen protected by rook through the pawn on h6.
  3158 Sythymesnos v Nasmichael, move 6.Qc8d8 prevents king from any further movement.
  3037 Tulkos v Nasmichael, move 14.
  3041 Andreas v Nasmichael, move 16.
  3160 Sythymesnos v Tulkos, mating net moves 11-14. Final Position: mate in any case—space control. Burnsides' mate?
  3050 Andreas v TheGreatPolgar, moves 15…19, mating net. Checkmate with pawn, mate, move 20.
  3161 Andreas v Sythymesnos. Beautiful discovered check. Move 6 B on c5. Move 21Rf2-f1 discovered check with rook cutting off escape route to other board.
  3163 TheGreatPolgar v Sythymesnos, moves 16-19, exchange, goes up a queen.
  2868 my first game online, Austin v Nasmichael, 0-1, mate, 22 moves.
  (ed) Clicking the game links throughout this article will display the games in a new window, you may need to log into the site to see these - if you don't have a username, select the 'sign on as guest option'.  To see both Alice boards, select the 'Alice' tab at the top of the right hand panel.  You can 'play through' the games using the arrow buttons beneath the board.

"I am beginning to see a way to make plans, but it is a bit more like dancing, because the rhythm must be right, as well as the attack plan. You have to be 'on the right foot' to execute some attacks. Even better, I say." — Nasmichael to Philip, during one Alice Chess game.

Alice Chess is the brainchild of Vernon Rylands Parton (1897-1974). He was a great chess promoter of his time and invented many other chess variants, among his most popular being Alice Chess. In October 2004 Alice Chess has been voted by the members of the international community as Recognised Variant of the Month, and the original texts from Mr. Parton can be viewed at, with many thanks to Jean-Louis Cazaux, Dan Troyka, and L. Lynn Smith for their contributions. The game was invented in 1958, being named after the heroine Alice in Lewis Carroll's famous stories.

Basics of Gameplay

  • Players use two boards.
  • First board (board A) is the starting board for both players in version 1, which is discussed here. The standard setup of pieces on board is used.
  • A piece that moves on board A, after arrival on the landing square, shifts to the corresponding square on board B.
  • A piece that moves on board B, after arrival on the landing square, shifts to the corresponding square on board A.

The rules concerning legal moves in Alice Chess

  • A move must be legal on the board on which it is played.
  • The square to which the piece is moved must be vacant on the other board.
  • On completion of a move, the piece moved is immediately transferred to the corresponding square on the other board.

(Rules taken from the text of Popular Chess Variants by D.B. Pritchard, pp.68, ©2000, Batsford Books, Ltd., London. Many thanks to the author for the detailing of the game and several examples with annotation pp.69-74, and I encourage you the reader to find this book.)

Immediate Consequences of Variant

  • The active attacking pieces must be on the opposite board to move and give check. [see game 3163, TheGreatPolgar v Sythymesnos, to see check delivered from the other board]
  • Discovered check becomes a viable option in attacking the opposing king.
  • A piece may not move to protect its king if it is on the same board. [refer to Game ID 3164, Tulkos v Sythymesnos]
  • Two pieces may not occupy the same square.
  • A piece that captures on one board will then transfer to the other board.

Longer-range consequences of variant

The use of space has to be modified somewhat.

  • A piece may be moved to occupy a square with the intention of "holding" the space on the other board [Blocking space]
  • A piece may used to attack a square on the other board, and thereby allow a piece on one board to oppose a piece on the "looking glass" board.
  • Some defences must be spread across two boards to be effective. [See game 3043, Nasmichael v Andreas, for the queen and bishop team hunting the king from moves 9-12]

If we are thinking in terms of Nimzowitsch's System, you can view the differences by thinking of:

  1. The Centre of the Board
    1. centre pawns move to the opposite side of the board, so beware, e2-e4 and d2-d4 immediately open lines in the centre. These pawns can be strengthened, but the centre shifts; the king must be aware of the shift.
    2. a short advance allows protection by pawns on the mirror board.
  2. Overprotection
    1. Major pieces can share files, and thereby oppose one another. Imagine the light-squared bishops both controlling the a1-h8 diagonal, but one controls it on board A, the other on board B. It makes for more difficult advancing and capturing and exchange decisions. [see game 3159, Sythymesnos v TheGreatPolgar, to see the Black Rook and Queen together oppose the White queen on the g-file.]
    2. If a rook, for example, give a back-rank check, a rook on that same rank on the second board may, if the lines are clear, move to a square that blocks the check, in essence moving through the attacking piece. [see game 3051, Nasmichael v TheGreatPolgar, at move 14, the queen protected by the rook through the pawn on h6.]
  3. Blockades
    1. Can be a material blockade or a space blockade. E.g., a queen on the 2nd or 7th ranks of the mirror board early in the game can protect the entire line of pawns from capture of a minor piece, nullifying the possibility of bishops or knights snapping away at the starting line of pawns. [see game 3158, Sythymesnos v Nasmichael at move 6.Qc8d8 prevents Black king from making any movement.]
    2. Shifting from board A to B can allow the player to prevent pawn advances on that file from the opponent.
    3. Seizing diagonals by a bishop become more important, as x-ray attacks can come instantly to life with a poorly-planned advance.
    4. Pawn chains are linked across boards, instead of being located on the same board. They only protect each other by standing on separate boards.
    5. The king is more safe by keeping "running room" for himself on both boards. Castling is a tricky business, as standard castling leaves no running room. [see game 3037, Tulkos v Nasmichael, at move 11-14]
    6. Nice auxiliary blockade tactic: if a piece sits on board A, then a piece on board B cannot move onto that square at all. He can move past it, but the two "dimensions" are separate, and cannot be attacked directly. The piece, in order to capture, must be on the same board. [see game 3041, Andreas v Nasmichael, move 14, where Black chooses to attack the queen and misses White's mating net. At 15, Black's king cannot move away from the rook attack because his pawns are behind him and in the way. He has to move forward into the mate.]
  4. The Passed Pawn
    1. If not previously understood, the en passant rule is to be omitted in this game, because of the other compensations of this variant in actual gameplay.
    2. A passed pawn that advances, remember, must go from board to board, and so protection must be administered accordingly. A board with heavy activity must be studied to determine who controls the proper files and ranks.
  5. Open Files
    1. Files are available immediately; but what is to be done with them?
    2. With the pawn advance, files (and corresponding pawn protection) are opened. This side effect of the tandem boards requires a bit of imagination with this principle: What would I do if the pawn were not there at the start of the game?
    3. Files that appear open can in actuality be closed, if enough of your forces control the lines on a particular board.
  6. Elements of Endgame Strategy
    1. Because there may be a board with few pieces on it, and few to add by piece movements, endgame play may be in force before it is realized, so keep an eye out for mating nets and calculations that would not normally be possible. X-ray attacks and discovered initiatives for attack can be planned for and forced. The mobility of the opponent's king plays a key role in the nature of the attack. [see game 3050, Andreas v TheGreatPolgar, moves 15-19, mating net with checkmate by pawn coming from his starting position with a double-step.] Cutting off escape lines will do the job as effectively as any other means; when the king is immobile, the attack can be escalated. In fact, this type of approach may cause the player to use powerful pieces to immobilize from the opposing board, and deliver check with a minor piece, with the major piece by its presence holding the king back from escaping to the other board. [see game 3160, Sythymesnos v Tulkos. White leaves holes that Black exploits. Without the White rook's departure of the 1st rank to take the pawn at move 6, the Black rook could not have taken and controlled the file, and the mate would not have come so quickly. The d1 square, unprotected by White's forces, is reinforced by Black's bishop. Controlling lanes is a key to success in Alice Chess.]
  7. Discovered Check
    1. To determine possible angles of attack, if you are playing online at, there is an analysis board, which will allow the player to view the disparate boards as they would appear if they were superimposed one upon the other, pieces and all, and that may give you an idea of what is really protected, what is vulnerable, and possible avenues of attack. [see game 3161, Andreas v Sythymesnos, with a well-placed bishop Bc5 on move 6 which is the attacking piece in a beautiful discovered check and mate at move 21…Rf2-f1#.]
  8. The Pawn Chain - will stretch across two boards, and since there are twice as many spaces, consider what holes that stretch will leave.
  9. Doubled pawns
    1. Pawns that are doubled exist on different boards, but similar restrictions apply.
  10. Exchanging - To keep the balance of an exchange, you must consider where your pieces are stationed on both boards, where the pieces must go, what jobs they were doing on the board on which they were positioned, and WHERE THEY WILL END UP! Will you be on the "right foot" to continue with your plans after a particular exchange? [see game 3163, TheGreatPolgar v Sythymesnos, moves 16-19, in the exchange, White goes up a queen with a decent position. Timing is everything.]

How I was drawn to it

The website spoke about the Recognized Variants Award that was issued to some of the best variants. They offered a place to play the game, and I was intrigued by the potential of the game. Until it was represented here, I could not make the time to investigate what seemed a very intriguing idea.

In my tournament on, we offered two variations - one with pieces beginning on the same board and another with white and black beginning on separate boards. This required different tactics of each type of game, because when the players start on different boards, the long-range pieces can immediately cause trouble for the other player; that space and freedom to develop is an illusion you must overcome.

Short mates were easy to miss in this first tournament. Longer games were still of a shorter length than normal. Mates were prevalent, so one player's limited vision helped his opponent, but this second round of games, "Down the Rabbit Hole", is tougher. I invite you to take a look at these games to get a feel for the rhythm of the play. There is an analysis board for you to view and kibitz. We welcome the comments.
Kudos to Austin Lockwood, who programmed the site. He played in the preliminary games, followed the tournament games, and worked out bugs that arose during play. Much work and preparation from him, and many thanks. [see game 2868, Austin v. Nasmichael, control of space, 22 moves, mate. Good first attempt by both players.]

This is the first web server on which I have participated where Alice Chess is currently being hosted. K(n)ights of the Square Table (NOST) used to hold e-mail and postal tournaments; has a Play-by-Email Server that also hosts individual games.

Use as a teaching tool

  1. Practice with a simple computer program yourself at
  2. Play live games with a friend Over-The-Board (OTB) using one standard set, two boards, and one marker per side (I use one glass stone and one black stone –I bought a bag at the dollar store for 2 USD) to mark the square the last move occupied before it shifted boards. Works really well.

How it is a wonderful addition to the chess community

Read Alice Through the Looking Glass to your children.

  1. Go to and get a free preview copy to read before you buy your own.
  2. Discuss the life of Lewis Carroll as a mathematician and show how creativity must be a part of your maths (mathematics means "to learn") and understanding of this language of math leads to new pathways in the mind.
  3. Use, for example, chapter 8 - "It's My Own Invention" ( and discuss how there are ways to be creative with the tools and gifts you have; and how logic and silliness and wonder can be made to walk hand in hand.
  4. Discuss the straight line of the story versus the tangent story line. (the pawn queens - versus - the silly story of the white knight about his "life story")
  5. Play the game with a child already very familiar with the standard game; it will break her/him out of stale patterns and lead to new ideas.
  6. Share this game with your regular chessmates.
  7. Use it as an excuse to play "tag team" chess, with your partner controlling board B.
  8. Demonstrate that in the spirit of Jayel Taylor of Chicago and his chesslove as documented in the ChessBase article that there is creativity everywhere in Chess, and the knowledge of it spreads past the board's dimensions and into this dimension.

Example Game 3163 - TheGreatPolgar(DEN) vs. Sythymesnos(FRA), move 28.

Date - 2004.07.31 - 08.19.2004, Result 1-0. When referring to boards A and B, I have made note of which board we are focusing on in parenthesis in the text. MJ Farris analyses the following game. Average time per move: 31.6 hours per move. Relatively a quick game, but this being a turn-based server, we have that option, and I am thankful time can be taken to give a real game online with international players.

1. g4 e5 Usually a wild start in a standard game, White looks for bishop space, which will translate into king space and movement, as castling is an option, but not the sole option here; for putting the king "in a corner" so other pieces may be utilized without being called to protect the king. Black proceeds with a normal acquisition of the centre--on the second board!

2. Bg2 Be7 One light-squared and one dark-squared bishop are prepared to come and attack on the first board, free to reposition themselves along (for white) the a8-h1 diagonal, (for black) the f8-a3 diagonal.

3. Bd5 Nh6 White shows his intent by re-developing his light-squared bishop; Black develops another piece, trying to go up a pawn in his attack. White's centre pawns remain still.

4. Bxb7 Na6 White captures and slides out of danger back to the B-board; Black develops yet another piece, and in doing so, blocks the White bishop. The "Attacker from Soissons" Sythymesnos is sticking to a plan of piece development. His rook on a8 is not in danger yet, although it sits on the same diagonal as the aggressive white bishop. White is busy attacking material. Let us see which plan is more soundly executed here.

5. a4 Nxg4 White opens the lane for his a-file rook, with possible intent to go to the B-board's seventh rank, with malicious intent. However, Black would be allowed to penetrate to White's first rank on the B-board, sharing that rank with the White king, restricting all lateral movement.

6. Ra2 Rb8 Black asks the white bishop a question. There is no piece able to come to the bishop's aid, and White's of the rook to a2 keeps it from moving laterally unless it runs to g2 on board A later.

7. e3 f5 A discovered attack by White's queen (see Qd1xg4) is behind the pawn move, but does that equalize? No, as the knight is now protected by the pawn on f5. White's bishop is still in a fix, although it can stay on the a8-h1 diagonal. Taking the knight would allow that bishop's capture by Black and would help Sythymesnos develop a piece AND restrict the White king's movement (see a6-f1 and the white squares are now off-limits to the white king).

Diagram, white to move: Board A, Board B (click the links to see the diagram on the left)

8. Bf3 Nf6 Both minor pieces retreat. Piece development by White—all but three are on the original board A. Black has an assault team on board B, but not attacking the king.

9. d4 Bb4+ White attacks the e5 pawn; Black chooses to lunge at White's most important piece. Remember the goal is the same in this game—attack and immobilize the opponent's king. No blocking is possible here except for Ra2-d2(B) which loses the rook instantly. All pieces on the A-board will disappear if they try to occupy the space. The king must move!

10. Kf1 Nc5 The kings are on opposing boards; Black wants to advance his pieces, and he needs to put his rooks on open files, to restrict the white king's motion. For now, the White bishop Bf3(A) opposes Nf6(B). Black Rb8(B) cannot move to White's first rank: Nb1(A) controls the space. In fact, 3 of the 7 remaining squares are occupied by pieces, and c3(A) attacks a 4th space. A shift to …Rb8-f8(A) followed by …g7-g5(B) and Rf8-f7(B) would make a nice mini-plan.

Diagram, white to move: Board A, Board B

11. c4 Ba6 Black is intent on sharing lines of attack with the opposing king. In this case the c-pawn protects the king from harassment, though nothing protects it in turn. Another pawn cannot go to its aid; because of the board shift, no pawn can get there, so only a minor piece. So here I see how important wise pawn development is in this variant. For the moment, it is isolated! Backwards pawn after a double initial step. There is a stopgap solution.

12. Rc2 Qc8 Perhaps moving the king back to the A-board is better, instead of using a major piece for pawn sentry duty, but the move also threatens the Nc5. The Black queen moves for the first time here, freeing up space for the (up to this point) unthreatened Black king. The Banner of Denmark is safe for the moment, as are the colours of France.

13. Ne2 Rb3 White's move frees his h-rook to move around the board, and patrol his file. Black's rook threatens to take over the second rank by capturing the pawn on b2(A) OR capturing Bf3 with a check threat (Rxf3(B)+). How will White respond?

14. Bd5 f4 I am not sure why White offered his bishop to the knight, other than to move him off-square, or off-board. With lovers of the royal game like the players here at SchemingMind, we experiment. Had Black taken the bishop on d5, there would not be immediate compensation, but White could have stepped his queen to h5(B), then captured the pawn on e5 +, followed by Q x Bb4(A) and afterwards moved to the B-board again, free of charge.

15. f3 Rd3

16. Qd6 Rf8 Now the Black king, after so much free time and space, is Sorely Restricted by the great queen development by White. The Black queen has passively moved, without reason, without purpose, in the circumstances of this game. Using the queen as TheGreatPolgar did here is useful, attacking space as well as material. GM Maurice Ashley wrote an article (see The Chess Drum, "the 65th Square", from early last year on the vision of master-chess players - using space as a tool. Energy and matter intertwine in earthly physics. So also do these ideas circle one another on the chessboard. The White queen blocks the d-pawn, opposes the Black queen on her file, is free from attack by the Black c-pawn, restricts the Black king's movement, and sits on the sixth rank, immune to attack for the moment, deep in Black's territory. Wow!

Diagram, white to move: Board A, Board B

17. Qxe5+ Kd8 The kings, and therefore, the ultimate targets, sit on opposite boards. Although it doesn't look like it, the Black king just ran into a corner. The c-and d-pawns on 7th rank block his forward movement. The queen blocks him on his right, the queen restricts all further movement. It was forced, because the White bishop Bd5 was never removed. His (Ke8) escape square would have been Ke8-f7(B), with running room.

18. Rxc5 Qxc5 Black forgot the board shift rule. Had he gone …Qc8-a8(A), threatened the rook h1 and co-opted the long diagonal a8-h1, then slid …Qa8-a1(B)+ it might've gone differently. The position for White is steadily increasing, with a material advantage, an attack advantage, and positional gain.

19. Qxc5 Rf7 Threatens mate with Q X R(A), then queen movement along the 8th rank, and possibly a mating net. Now, of course, with the right momentum, at the amateur level at least, a material imbalance means less against you if you have the right strategy, with the right pieces, in the right places. Shatranj ( and the culture from which it comes talk of patience, right mind, right place, right practice, right timing (for more on this, read Idries Shah's The Sufis). I mated someone with a material advantage ( against me, because of where I was in my development. So keeping in mind that the material deficit may not be the final nail in the coffin, if an initiative could be maintained.

20. Be4 Bxc4 The White bishop finally escapes, and the Black rook feels poorly positioned to me. Material: 6P + 2B + 2N + R + Q + K versus 6P + 2B + N + 2R + K. If I overlap the boards using the "Analysis" board, we see

Diagram, white to move: Both boards

Crazy, huh?

NOTE: Look at crossed patterns of force between opposing players. To see it on one board, use checker pieces under all pawns and pieces on "Board B" to see which pieces are on the other side of the looking glass. Not many pieces have left the boards, but an endgame feel is present. Mating nets are here, too.

21. Nbc3 Ng4 The White knight finally makes a move, but to where? It blocks the rook in from any queenside movement. The rook can only retreat. Black tries an attack. Is there time?

22. h4 Nh2+ Forces the issue. White needs to keep his first rank king-free, because of counterplay(…Rd3d1(A)+, taking the rook h8) and watch the f-file (K to f2(A), Nxf3(B) and after the Black knight leaves the square, f4-f3(B) reveals a free lane for Rf7).

23. Kg2 Rxd4 Once again, Black's team is mainly situated on the same board as the White king, the target. So as it stands, White is not under threat of direct attack. Black's king, however, is sitting under different circumstances.

24. Rxh7 Bf1 Black's king is corralled. See the box? c8-c7-f8-f7; and by Black's own pawns, e1 is the only escape square. That c7, d7 restriction contributes to his own downfall. Black is also trying to build a box for the White king. Who can put the last nail in the coffin first?

25. Rh8 d6 "Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!" (Lost In Space reference ☺) Black's move does not completely ignore the present threat, but it is too slow. How about …Bb4-f8(B)? That bishop's hands have been free and unoccupied for awhile.

26. Qc6 Ke7 I would've preferred letting Black rooks both patrol these open lanes. In Alice Chess the major pieces have to control lanes. Imagine …Rd4(A)-- …Rc4(B)-- …Rc8(A)—forcing the reduction of the threat on the 8th rank. All pieces need to work for the protection of their king.

27. Bxf4 Ng4 …R x B(A) stops the e7 hole from closing. Not enough fingers to stop the breaking of the dam, though.

28. Bg5# 1-0 The hole closes, and mate. --mjf

It is my hope that in your collective pursuit of truth on the 64 squares, its 100-square brother, and in your personal and business lives, you may see the joys that truth can bring to you. Peace, good health to you, and PLAY THE GAME!

--Michael J. Farris, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, live from East Point, 2004, drinking Strawberry-Banana nectar and searching for truth.


Pritchard, D.B., Popular Chess Variants, B.T. Batsford Ltd., © 2000, London.

Excerpts from Alice In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, public domain, presented by, with commentary by Dr. Marc Edmund Jones from 1928, © 1997-2004, The Sabian Publishing Society.

"Curiouser and Curiouser", V.P. Parton, (1961), monograph courtesy of Cleveland Public Library.

"Vernon Rylands Parton, 1897-1974", Article by Jean-Louis Cazaux, published on, Dec. 22, 2001.

Article on Jayel Taylor, "Jayel Taylor, chess player and webmaster," courtesy of news centre, News ID #1898, September 12, 2004, George Jelliss, "Alice Chess". From Variant Chess, Volume 3, Issue 24, Summer 1997, pages 69-71.

Aron Nimzowitsch, My System: 21st Century Edition, Lou Hays, ed. ©1991, Hays Publishing, Oklahoma.

The games Made possible by the diligent work and reworking of Mr. Austin Lockwood, many, many thanks.

For a list of countries represented, see


 Austin Lockwood 10/20/2004

Great piece - it was a great idea to apply Nimzowitsch's System to Alice Chess... I wonder if we could do that with any other variants?

 cleverman 10/20/2004 

Wow, this must took alot of work! Great Job Michael!

 Quux 10/25/2004

Great article. This must be the only article on the Net that discusses the chess theory of Alice and how it differs from standard chess theory. Very interesting!

 nasmichael 10/31/2004 

I thought there would be more online, but I have not found any. I would like a fan with a Master-class eye to take a look at some games (Caissus appears to be a strong player of chess in general, and Tangram has a strong grasp of solid principles and play also) that are played here, and offer some insight.

 nasmichael 11/8/2004 

On there is a commentary by A. Fourriere on strategy also. It speaks of the abilities of standard pieces on the expanded board and the limitations on the pieces. Check it out.

 nasmichael 11/14/2004 

Thanks to A. Fourriere of it has been brought to my attention--even though he didn't say it that way--that the queenside knight is on board A only for the light-colored squares, and the kingside knight is on board A only for the dark-colored squares. SO teamwork on the board will require a coordination of both knights in tandem to control all the squares. Otherwise attacks can be directed with the understanding that certain knights can attack on certain squares on certain boards at a particular moment.

 nasmichael 12/16/2004 

Alice Chess is discussed in Variant Chess magazine, in particular in volume 7, issue 45. I received a copy recently, and it is a fantastic magazine. In the same fashion as games are discussed in Chess Life, games from players are replayed and annotated; in this issue, one game is annotated, displaying other possibilities. Peter Coast's game from a postal tournament at the BCVS (British Chess Variant Society). He comments on the games. He mentions that when he plays correspondence Alice Chess, he sets up two boards, and uses coins to mark the squares that are occupied on the other board.

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