The Dark Chess, a chess variant developed by Jens Bæk Nielsen and Torben Osted in 1989, involves incomplete information much like Kriegspiel. In this game, players are only able to see their own pieces and the legal moves they can make, rather than the entire board.
Due to the nature of this variant of chess, the objective is to capture the opponent’s king rather than checkmate it. The player is not informed when their king is in check, and it is permissible to remain in or move into check, which may ultimately lead to the king’s capture and the game’s loss.
Playing the Dark Chess over-the-board is a great fun not only for the players themselves, but for the audience as well, mostly because the game employs a tripartite board system, with each player possessing their own board while the third board is reserved for the umpire and any onlookers. On the other hand, it’s probably more convenient to play it online, as the particular server handles all specific rules of visibility automatically.
Have a look at the sample game that I recorded with my PGN to MP4 converter:
Before we analyze the above game, let me describe several strategic tips for beginners:
- Never leave your king unprotected on an unknown line (rank, file, or diagonal). This is one of the most common sources of a sudden defeat, as it is very difficult to find out what partially visible lines are occupied by enemy pieces, waiting to deliver a final blow.
- Your queen can “see” all threats coming from opponent’s pieces, except the knights. Don’t fall victim to sneaky knight charges.
- Use the knights to your advantage. An inexperienced player usually reacts only to visible dangers, which makes their valuable pieces more vulnerable to unexpected attacks.
- Make sure you protect the usual weak points, as you know them from the normal chess (f7, f2). Losing to the Scholar’s Mate happens more often in the Dark Chess.
I will highlight more tips in the comments of the sample game, viewed from White’s perspective:
1. e4 ? (question marks will be used for unknown moves) 2. ♕f3 (Not the worst place for the queen. It helps see a bigger part of the board, and the queen can feel safe because the places from where a knight would attack are visible as well.)
2. … ♞f6 3. e5 (Good move, as the pawn is visible to Black, so the knight will be forced to retreat.)
3. … ? (White can only see that the knight retreated, but it’s not clear where. On the other hand, there would be just one place outside the White’s field of visibility. But still, it’s in the dark, so I’ll leave the question mark there.)
4. h4 d6 5. exd6 (An important move, as White can temporarily see further squares – c7, d7, e7 – before the white pawn is captured. Getting this kind of information is crucial for a success in the Dark Chess.)
5. … ? 6. ♗b5 (The king is revealed! Luckily for Black, they can see the bishop thanks to the pawn at b7.)
6. … ♞c6 7. ♗xc6 bxc6 8. ♕e2 (Remember the strategic rule not to leave the king on open lines. The queen not only protects the king, but watches the e-file for any suspicious actions.)
8. … ? 9. ♘c3 ? 10. b3 ? 11. ♗b2 (White expects Black to castle to the king-side, so the bishop will provide useful information over the main diagonal a1-h8 after the knight leaves it.)
11. … ? 12. O-O-O ? 13. ♘f3 ? 14. ♘e1 ♝e6 15. f3 ? 16. g4 (White prepares a pawn breakthrough at the king-side.)
16. … ? 17. ♘g2 ♝d5 18. h5 c4 19. hxg6 (Another significant capture. The black bishop at g7 is revealed, so White must be careful not to neglect the defense of their own king.)
19. … fxg6 20. ♖h3 cxb3 21. axb3 ? (Actually, we could have seen in the video that a pawn crossed the visible field a6, but that wouldn’t be displayed in the real game.)
22. ♖dh1 ♝e6 23. ♘e3 (Note that the knight blocks the e-file, so the queen can no longer see the black bishop at e6. White can only assume that the bishop is still there, but cannot know it for sure. That’s the dark element!)
23. … ? 24. ♔b1 (As White plans to join the attack with their queen, the king moves away from the pawn d2 that would likely become unprotected. Furthermore, White intends to open the a1-h8 diagonal, and the expected clash of bishops would reveal the white king position.)
24. … ? 25. ♘d1 ♝xb2 (This is an interesting situation. Black really captured the bishop at b2, but the black bishop doesn’t see the king!)
26. ♘xb2 ? 27. ♕h2 (The Alekhine’s Gun. It is a mighty weapon in the Dark Chess as well. Besides, the queen revealed a black knight at c7, which means that Black has only the last bishop – speaking of minor pieces – to protect the king.)
27. … ? 28. f4 ♝d5 29. ♘xd5 ? (The white knight disappeared, so White can expect that it was taken by the black knight, and remember the last black knight position. It’s time to launch the final attack.)
30. ♖xh7 ♜xh7 31. ♕xh7 (The black queen is not around! The king must run away.)
31. … ♚f8 32. ♕h8 ? (Now we know the second black rook position.)
33. ♖h7 (As the king must be at the 7th rank, it is safe to leave the queen and attack him with the rook.)
33. … ? 34. ♕e5 ♚d7 35. c4 ? 36. cxd5 (Black probably decided to move the king to a safer position, so White can capture the knight, and the pawn will help with the ultimate siege.)
36. … ? 37. ♔c2 (White still doesn’t know the black queen’s location, so they remember the basic rule, and move the king away from the base rank. Always think of the own king’s safety!)
37. … a4 38. bxa4 c4 39. ♕e6 (As it seems that Black just ran out of attacking options, White kept surrounding the black king.)
39. … ? 40. d6 ♜xd6 41. ♕xe7 ? 42. ♕c7 ♚d5 (King moved out of sight, but d5 is the only square to go to.)
43. ♖e7 ♚e4 (It is done.)
44. ♖xe4 1-0