Hexagonal Chess by I G Shafran

The Soviet geologist Isaak Grigor'evich Shafran created his version of hexagonal chess in 1939 and registered his invention in 1956. It was demonstrated at the Worldwide Chess Exhibition in Leipzig in 1960. For reasons that probably have to do with marketing, despite a wave of interest following the publication of a description in the magazine Junyj texnik, the game has not gained the popularity enjoyed by Glinski's variant, although it is significantly closer to orthodox chess in several respects.

Hexagonal chess: board and notation.The Board

The board has the shape of a hexagon (an irregular one) whose dimensions are determined by the fact that in this game, as on the orthodox square board, there are as many vertical files as each side has officers (i.e., nine, accounting for an extra Bishop) and an average of eight fields in each file (six on the flanks, ten in the centre). This makes for a total of 70 hexagonal fields of three colours: white or yellow (23), grey or red (23) and black (24). As on the orthodox board, there are two corners of each colour.

The files are labelled a to i; the straight lines running from 10 to 4 o'clock (the counterparts of the ranks on the orthodox board) are numbered 1 to 10. The diagram shows how the fields are coloured and how the notation works.

In addition to the nine officers (a King, a Queen, two Rooks and Knights and three Bishops), each side has nine Pawns. Hexagonal chess: initial setup.The starting position closely resembles the one in the orthodox game, with all officers at the very rear and a Pawn immediately in front of each (compare this to the diamond shape in Glinski's version), except that the black Queen, like the white one, stands to the left of her King. The extra Bishop is located on the right, between the Knight and the Rook.

Thus the initial allocation of the armies is:

Ke1, Qd1, Ra1, Ri5, Nb1, Ng3, Bc1 (white), Bf2 (red), Bh4 (black),
pp. a2, b2, c2, d2, e2, f3, g4, h5, i6;
Ke10, Qf10, Ra6, Ri10, Nc8, Nh10, Bb7 (black), Bd9 (white), Bg10 (red),
pp. a5, b6, c7, d8, e9, f9, g9, h9, i9.

Each player calls the left-hand side of the board his Queen's flank and the right-hand side his Bishops' flank; note that they don't match (White's Queen's flank is Black's Bishops').

The Rules

The officers move and capture exactly as in Glinski's game, i.e., essentially as in orthodox chess. The Rook moves through the sides of the fields, the Bishop through the corners, the Queen combines the moves of those two, the King moves in the same directions but one field a time only. Hexagonal chess: the Knight's move. The Knight goes to the nearest fields that a Queen can't get to in a single move, which are the fields a King could get to by making two moves in one `side direction' and one in another (or vice versa), or one move in a `side direction' and another in a `corner direction' (or vice versa), always turning at the most obtuse angles possible. The Knight of course does no such thing; from his point of view the line he follows is a straight one, nor does it pass through the centre of any other field, so it is slandering him to say, as many do, that he leaps over other men on his way in either orthodox or hexagonal chess.

A Pawn's first move may bring him as far as the middle of his file; in this version of the game this means that the a and i Pawns don't have a double move (since they're only one field away from the middle anyway), but the d, e and f Pawns may even make a triple one. If they do, they may be taken en passant on either of the two fields that they rush through. Pawns capture diagonally forwards, towards 1 or 11 o'clock (not on the same rank as they do in Glinski's game).

Castling and en passant capture.On the diagram the black Pawn d8 has three possible moves, none of which are safe; after 1. ... d8-d7 he can be captured by 2. e6:d7, after 1. ... d8-d6 by 2. e6:d7 e.p. or 2. c4:d6, after 1. d8-d5 by 2. c4:d6 e.p. (it goes without saying that the en passant captures must follow immediately if they are to happen at all, whereas the regular ones may be postponed).

Castling is possible with the same provisos as in the orthodox game (that is, neither the King nor the Rook may have moved and the King may not start from, go through or finish on a checked field). It can be long or short in either direction. The notation consists of Q- or B- (indicating whether the Queen's or the Bishops' Rook is used) followed by 0-0-0 (long castling: the King moves next to the Rook and the Rook jumps over him) or 0-0 (short castling, the opposite procedure). Castling does not really increase the King's safety or make the Rook more active, but it is present in the game none the less, for completeness.

Stalemate is draw.

From the abovementioned report in Junyj texnik:

  • Sample games.
  • Endgames.
  • Problems.

  • Implementation

    My implementation of I G Shafran's hexagonal chess for Zillions of Games is here.

    Created and maintained by Ivan A Derzhanski.
    Last modified: 17 August 2001.