Hostage Chess

In Hostage Chess you can use your opponent's pieces that you have captured to ransom the freedom of those pieces of yours captured by your opponent. Of course in such a prisoner exchange you can only buy your piece's freedom by trading a piece of equal or greater value in return.

The game is one of the twenty featured in "Popular Chess Variants" by D.B.Pritchard, published by B.T.Batsford Ltd., London, 2000; ISBN 0 7134 8578 7. (Batsford's full address is 9 Blenheim Court, Brewery Road, London N7 9NT.) David Pritchard earlier published "The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants" in which almost one and a half thousand variants were listed -- but not this one, as it hadn't been invented. In the journal "Variant Chess", Pritchard called Hostage Chess better than the game he had previously chosen as "variant on the decade". He said it was very suited both to over-the-board play and to correspondence games.

Hostage Chess is played with a standard western chessboard and set of pieces.

Hostage Chess was invented by John Leslie (email:



Normal rules of western chess, except these:

In each turn you may do ONE of the following:

Rules for prisoner exchange:

You may only exchange a piece of your opponent's in your possession that you have previously captured for a piece of your own in your opponent's possession that your opponent has previously captured. Your opponent cannot refuse to make the exchange, however, you may only initiate an exchange by giving up a captured piece of equal or greater value to the one you want to free. Values run from PAWN upwards to KNIGHT OR BISHOP, then ROOK, then QUEEN. The person initiating the exchange chooses both of the pieces to be exchanged, then immediately places their newly liberated piece on the board. The player who did not initiate the exchange keeps their newly liberated piece in reserve to be placed at their discretion at a later time.

Rules for liberated prisoner placement:

Pieces can be placed on any vacant square except that pawns cannot be placed onto the first or eighth ranks.

Bishops may be placed on squares of the same color as each other if the player so chooses.

Placed pieces behave as if they have not previously moved, therefore:

Rules for pawn promotion1:

In Hostage Chess a pawn that reaches the eighth rank must be given up to the opponent (thereby becoming a captured piece) and exchanged on the promotion square with the player's choice of a knight, bishop, rook or queen that the opponent has already captured. So long as such a piece for exchange is not available, the pawn is unable to promote and consequently advancement to the eighth rank is not allowed. Under this circumstance however a pawn on the seventh rank is still able to give check to the opponent's king and to prevent castling by attacking a square over which the king would have to pass, since the capture of the king would immediately end the game, making the issue of the subsequent pawn promotion irrelevant.

1Alternative rules for pawn promotion have been described elsewhere, however this implementation seems the most straightforward.



It is convenient for each player to place captured pieces on their right and to keep placeable pieces on their left. An exchange then simply involves pushing a captured piece directly across to the opponent.



Normal chess notation, with the following exceptions:

You need not record that upon promotion a pawn becomes a piece captured by the opponent; this simply follows from the rules.



(Games 1 and 2 were published in David Pritchard's article in "Variant Chess", Summer 1999, shortly after Hostage Chess had been invented.)

Game 1:

1.e4 e5

2.Bc4 Bc5

3.Nf3 d6

4.d4 exd4

5.Nxd4 Qh4

6.g3 Qh3

7.Be3 (P-P)@g2

8.Qf3 Nf6

9.Rg1 Bg4

10.Qf4 N(b)d7

11.@g5 Ne5

12.gxf6 g5

13.Qxg5 Bxd4

14.(N-N)N@g7+ Kf8

15.Ne6+ Ke8

16.Qg7 N@f3+

17.Kd1 Nxg1+

18.Kc1 Bxe6

19. Bxe6 Qxe6

20.Qxh8+ (R-R)R@f8

21.(B-N)N@g7+ Kd7

22.Qxf8 Rxf8

23.Nxe6 (Q-Q)Q@e1+


Game 2:

1.e4 e5

2.Nf3 Nc6

3.Bb5 Bc5

4.c3 Qf6

5.Bxc6 dxc6

6.d4 exd4

7.cxd4 Bb4+

8.Bd2 (B-N)N@d3+

9.Ke2 Bxd2

10.Qxd2 Nf4+

11.Kf1 (B-B)B@c4+

12.Kg1 Nh3+

13.gxh3 Qxf3

14 B@g2 (N-N)N@e2+

15 Kf1 Nf4+

16 Resigns

Game 3:

1.e4 e5

2.Nc3 Nf6

3.Bc4 Bc5

4.Nf3 d6

5.d3 O-O

6.Bg5 c6

7.Qd2 Be6

8.Bxe6 fxe6

9.Bxf6 Qxf6

10.(B-B)B@g5 Qf7

11.O-O-O (B-N)N@g4

12.Be3 Nxf2

13.Qxf2 Bxe3+

14.Qxe3 B@f4

15.Qxf4 Qxf4+

16.B@d2 Qf7

17.R(h)f1 Qd7

18.Ng5 d5

19.Rxf8+ KxR

20.(R-R)R@f7 Qxf7

21.Nxf7 Kxf7

22.(N-N)N@g5 Ke2

23.(Q-Q)Q@f7 Kd6

24.(B-B)B@c7+ Kc5

25.Nxe6+ Kb4

26.a3 mate

Game 4:

1.e4 c5

2.Nf3 e6

3.Nc3 d5

4.exd5 exd5

5.Bb5+ Nc6

6.Qe2+ (P-P)@e4

7.Bxc6+ bxc6

8.Ne5 Qf6

9.Ng4 Qe6

10.@f3 exf3

11.gxf3 Qxe2+

12.Nxe2 Bd6

13.(P-P)@e5 Bc7

14.N-B)B@d6 Bxd6

15.exd6 N@f5

16.(B-B)B@e5 h5

17.Bxg7 Nxg7

18.Nf6+ Kf8

19.Nxg8 (B-N)N@g2+

20.Kf1 (Q-Q)Q@e1

21.Kxg2 Qxe2

22.B@e7+ Kxg8

23.(N-N)N@f6 mate


Hostage Chess plays very like the great Japanese Chess game "Shogi" in which pieces change sides when they are captured, becoming available to parachute (or "drop") back onto the board to fight against their former allies. So if you have played "Shogi", expect many of its themes to reappear in Hostage Chess. For instance, games often end with a succession of checks. The attacking side knows that unless these checks end in a mate they will lead to defeat. -- As in "Shogi", parachutable pieces can be specially powerful. The player with a larger store of them will tend to be able to launch a decisive attack. Do not reduce your store of paratroopers in order to secure slight advantages on the board! The game is one of surprising sacrifices and sudden aggression. Your king can be astonishingly vulnerable even when castled. Strengthen its defenses in good time, perhaps by dropping men near to it.

When queens, for instance, have been exchanged on the board, the player who initiated the exchange may at once rescue his or her imprisoned queen and drop it. The other player can then similarly drop a queen, but may find this insufficient compensation. Dropping first, particularly with a queen, can easily win the game. If you have captured your opponent's queen while yours remains on the board, then your queen may be able to behave very aggressively indeed, perhaps seeming to sacrifice itself pointlessly. When your opponent captures it, you at once rescue it and drop it, perhaps giving immediate mate.

An often grave disadvantage of rescuing a man is that you do have to parachute the rescued man at once. In contrast, your opponent is now able to add a released prisoner to a store of paratroopers which may be growing alarmingly large. Experts will be wary of this danger, the result sometimes being that neither is willing to initiate an exchange of prisoners until one of them launches a big attack, rescuing and dropping several men in swift succession.

Much of the time, an imprisoned enemy should be considered nearly as threatening as an enemy already waiting to be placed. Remember, after an exchange of prisoners, the rescued prisoner is placed immediately. Think of the men in your prison not only as useful "cash" for "buying" your men back from prison at a time of your choice, but also as bombs liable to explode at a time chosen by your opponent.

The situation is not as in "Shogi", where capturing a knight, for instance, means you at once have a new knight to drop, a knight that has "changed sides". If you want a knight to drop, you must get your opponent to capture one of your own knights, after which you must rescue it. A man can sometimes be sacrificed simply so that it can then be rescued and dropped.

Correspondingly, there is a possibly grave danger in capturing anything: it gives your opponent the chance of rescuing and then dropping it. A man you capture might perhaps return to mate you immediately. You have to be careful even about capturing undefended pawns.

Often the best way of stopping your opponent dropping (parachuting) somewhere is to drop something there yourself.

Knight drops can be extremely powerful, while bishop drops tend to be less useful. So capturing an enemy bishop at the cost of a knight of yours, a knight which you can then rescue and drop, is often a good idea.

A rook may be no more useful than a knight as a droppable piece, or even as a piece on the board (since the game will never reach a stage comparable to the endgame in western chess, in which rooks become very powerful). But of course the sheer fact that the rook is "officially worth more" can in practice mean that it really is worth more to you as a prisoner. Knights cannot be used to rescue rooks, but rooks can be used to rescue knights.

An imprisoned queen may not be very useful to the owner of the prison. Yes, it can be used for rescuing absolutely any man, but only through giving the opponent a droppable queen. This is one reason why it may sometimes be good to sacrifice a queen to win a knight and a bishop.

Even a pawn can be very powerful if dropping it leads to a mate. Rescuing a pawn in exchange for releasing an enemy knight could often make sense. So, sometimes, could rescuing a knight in exchange for releasing an enemy queen.

Dropped pawns can be specially useful when placed so that they threaten to promote soon. Also for double attacks ("forks"), or for disordering a king's defenders. An exposed king may even have a pawn dropped in front of it just so that the king will be forced to capture the pawn, becoming still more exposed. Dropping two or more pawns in swift succession can be devastating. In one game, White dropped a pawn onto the seventh rank, forking two rooks and threatening to promote by capturing one or other of them. Black replied by rescuing a man, paying for the rescue by releasing the only white piece which could be used for the promotion, so that the rook capture became impossible. [Remember, a pawn can move to the eighth rank only if it can at once be promoted by changing places with an imprisoned piece.]

This page created by Andy Pierce.

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