Dark Chess: The Art of War Strategy Guide
Dark Chess is a chess variant where you cannot see all of your opponents chess pieces on the board. That "Fog of War" makes Dark Chess a game of luck, skill, and psychology that creates an exciting and unpredictable class of chess. This document was based on the on the Chessmaster Live version on Xbox360 by Ubisoft. The rules and strategy I've described are specific to that implementation, however this version is very similar to other online and play by mail versions. I've tried to organize this guide in increasing complexity so it's recommended to start with the Basics and then come back for more as you explore the world of Dark Chess.
The goal of Dark Chess is capture your opponents King, not to checkmate it (always a very rewarding feeling when it happens). This creates an environment where Kings are extremely vulnerable and must be protected at all times. In this chess variant information gathering is part and parcel of every win. The player with the most information can lay destructive traps, plan effective frontal assaults, or flank their opponents for the kill. Although there is a randomness to Dark Chess, the fundamentals of chess strategy still apply. That is especially true of the beginning and end games in which even one wrong move can turn victory into defeat. Most beginners to Dark Chess start with a hyper aggressive strategy that plays on their opponents lack of information. However against skilled opponents, the sound fundamentals of chess will win you more games than relying on luck or intimidation.
Dark Chess Basic Strategy
- King - *Never* leave your King unprotected on an unknown file, rank, or diagonal. The Fool's Mate equivalent in Dark Chess is easy to accomplish by leaving King unprotected on just one diagonal.
- Queen - The Queen is invaluable in Dark Chess for her information gathering abilities. The Queen more than any other piece and can provide a large quantity of information about open and occupied territory. The Queen is exceptionally vulnerable to attacks from Knights.
- Bishops - Bishops are extremely valuable in Dark chess for early information gathering. Also the lack of their presence on the board can free pieces to launch attacks with more safety during your mid and end games. Always keep track of the what color bishops have been eliminated from the game.
- Knights - Beware of Knights! Silent and deadly these pieces move like lethal submarines and can capture your King or major pieces without any warning. Knights are also very effective disrupting your opponents pawn defenses and well worth the sacrifce to create an opportunity to attack a castled King.
- Pawns are valuable information brokers. They give you at least two squares of information (on the diagonals they can capture) and also will show enemy pawns directly in front of their position.
- Your Pawn infrastructure significantly influences your middle game and should not be traded without understanding the long term implications to your defensive line and information network.
- Always track opponent pawn files. This information will be invaluable in the mid-game and endgame for both offensive and defensive positions
Dark Chess Advanced Strategy
- Track all enemy pawn files - especially those empty of pawns.
- A home chess board works well for keeping track of online play.
- Be very careful of hanging pieces.
- Move pieces cautiously and with support into unknown positions.
- Bishops are information gods early in Dark Chess games, however they are especially vulnerable to Knights, Queens, & Rooks.
- Bishops can be used early to help identify enemy openings and key during assualts in the later part of the game.
- Always be aware of your piece count to better evaluate your trades in material.
- Pawns can also see pawns directly in front of their position, so they are extremely valuable for mid-field information.
- Early game - During this period you have the greatest knowledge of board position, use it expand your forces in confidence.
- Late game - Pawn management is vital - Knowing where enemy pawns are located is critical to your success with promoting pieces.
- Triple coverage is an ideal method for getting ahead in material and extremely hard to detect.
- e.g. Piece takes enemy piece, enemy pawn takes piece, pawn takes enemy pawn, enemy Queen takes pawn, Queen takes enemy Queen.
- Never attack with a castle without a way to protect your King.
- A King sitting next to your back row Castle can allow you to trade evenly if your attack fails.
- Advancing a pawn between two pieces can cause a self inflicted fork (most commonly if taken by another pawn).
- With poor information never break pawn formation, especially without adequate protection for your King.
- This generally results in having to keep strategic pieces behind for protection, which can quickly cause you to lose the initiative.
- When down in material, be wary of even trades.
- En Passant - though technically allowed is not recommend unless you have adequate information about the safety of the move.
- Depending on your opening strategy, it is highly recommend to castle your King
- Beware of Bishops and Queens that know you've castled.
- Castling late can be very dangerous without an escape route.
- Understanding what side your opponent castled on is key to knowing where to attack.
- Castled Kings can be at risk from Knights, make sure you have an early warning system in place (see common defeats).
Common Defeats to Avoid
- Black should be especially careful of Scholars Mate
- The best defense is to use your Knight to avoid loss of material.
- Also beware of the Queen & Bishop or Knight variation of Scholars mate.
- An enemy Bishop on your King's diagonal is the most common Dark Chess variation of Fools Mate.
- In the beginning you have a very small window to expose and then seal your King's diagonal.
- It is very easy to make this mistake so double check you have appropriate intelligence if you ever expose your King.
- Kings can walk into death from pawns and other Kings - There is no check, so move carefully as you try to free blocked pawn files.
- Kings vs. Knights - Kings can be killed instantly by Knights without warning and should be insulated well.
- Depending on which side was castled on, Kings have different danger zones. Be aware of those areas.
- Defense - A King in the corner with 3 parallel pawns defending only has 1 real danger zone (the f or c pawn).
- In later stages if the f or c pawn becomes compromised protect c2 or f2 (castles or bishops work well in this situation).
- Kings & Hanging Rooks - Your King can cover a Rook on the first rank for added defense when attacking with Castles.
- Whenever it is safe to do so (generally using pawns for protection), cover a near side Castle with your King.
- That may allow your King to at least end a material exchange evenly if something goes wrong or prevent an easy back rank capture.
Non Traditional Tactics
- Non-obvious moves can be the bane of your opponents and be used to catch them off guard.
- If you can detect an opponent's pawn structure is weak, charge in with a lone Knight to wreak havock on the enemy line.
- Hanging pawns can still appear to be well protected lines for a short amount of time. Use them to fool your opponent into retreat.
- Gambits cab be very attractive in Dark Chess, especially if your opponent believes you've made a mistake.
- Opponents often hide Kings in plain site on the 7th Rank.
- Castles attacking the 7th Rank are relatively safe and will not be detected by castles on the back rank (if not already spotted on the file).
Auto Destruct Sequence Engaged!
- Be bold if you're about to lose! Fortune favors the foolish!
- If your King is in relative safety, send a castle to the back ranks of your opponent for a kill.
- Beware, this can be futile if the enemy King is protected.
- Look for potential signs enemy Castles are capturing pieces across the board before attempting.
- Every catastrophe is an opportunity, use your opponents confidence to lead them into devious traps.
- Piece exchanges backed up by Pawn chains can quickly turn major material leads around.
- As much as possible maintain pawn chains as you sprint for the back rank to promote pieces.
- Bluffing when the chips are down - even if your down in material, use the psychology of combined arms to intimidate your opponent.
Zen & the Art of Dark Chess
- In Dark Chess you will learn more about chess from how you lose than how you win.
- Avoid very unknown positions, followed by less known positions, followed by "sorta" known positions.
- Don't think too highly of your victories because your next loss may be just around the corner.
- "The game is not so serious as normal chess, but quite amusing and exciting!" - Jens Bæk Nielsen (co-inventor of Dark Chess)
This was fun to put together and I hope you enjoyed reading it. Please let me know if you have any other suggestions or feedback.
There is a free and very accessible darkchess programming contest on http://www.finalbot.com/dark-chess.aspx
Automatic tournament everyday so you can elaborate a strategy and see where it ends up in the ranking.