Saturday, December 18, 2010

my fellow Americans: remember Chazz?

D.B. Pritchard's Encyclopedia of Chess Variants is pretty much the authoritative text on the subject. I couldn't tell you how many pages reference this work.  I've never read Prtichard cover-to-cover but it's the sort of oddball tome I love to flip around in.  Yesterday I found an interesting item in the Addenda.  The variant Chazz is described as a pretty straightforward variant of standard FIDE chess.  It plays on an 8x8 board with only kings and pawns in the initial array:

Pawns in Chazz may make a non-capturing move one step backwards as well as forwards and they promote only to Rooks, Bishops or Knights.  Pritchard notes that Chazz in normally played on a fast clock. All this is well and good.  Nothing particularly remarkable about Chazz in the wild and wooly world of chess variants.  Most variants I putter with involve nonstandard pieces and ridiculously-shaped boards.  Here's an overwrought derivative that I've been working on for several years off and on:

It's basically Gygax's Dragonchess playable in two dimensions.

Anyhoo, the reason I bring up Chazz is because Pritchard (who I should note is a Brit working in that mysterious era before we could all surf the net while sitting on the crapper) claims that this variant "is said to have swept America 1991-2".  Now obviously no chess variant became a full-blown fad in America in any decade I've been alive.  Our popular culture just isn't that awesome here.  Among gamer nerds the only chess variant I recall gaining any traction in the 90's was Knightmare Chess from Steve Jackson Games, which was basically a set of exception-based mechanics cards and a rule pamphlet for how to use 'em with a normal chess game.

But the main place that chess variants get played is in chess clubs.  I've never been a chess club member, so if it was even a little bit popular in that scene I could have completely missed it.  So here are my questions for the inhabitants or former residents of the New World reading this:
  • Have you ever heard of or played Chazz?
  • What context (where?, with whom?, in a club?) did you play it? 
  • Was it a single game or did it get played regularly for a while?
I'm just curious whether Pritchard had good information on this point.  He's clearly hedging his bets with the "is said to have swept" language, but chess variants do sometimes become something of a local phenom.  Gala, a.k.a. Farmer's Chess, was a popular local variant in the Schleswig-Holstein area of Germany up until maybe the 18th or 19th century.  A 20th century variant with hexes on the board instead of squares (allowing, among other things, for rooks to travel in 6 directions instead of four) has its own international federation of players centered on Hungary, if I recall correctly.