The Phantom Of The Chess Board

The Phantom Chess Piece By Simon Jepps

Chess is like an Opera,
The board a theatre,
The pieces the performers,
Yet the game has only just begun.
Phantom to f4.

The centuries long search for the next evolution of Chess by Grandmasters and Chessicians alike has indeed proved itself a worthy adversary to even the greatest minds.

Yet perhaps this little wonder which has boggled so many for such a long time is and always has been staring us in the face. Laughing at us. Dancing around us unawares. Teasing us with possibilities but then never materialising to grant us its existence.

Indeed the “holy grail” that is the evolution of Chess may very well have driven many a player insane with torment.

Today however, I do believe that someone, who has lurked amongst the shadows of the Chess board for so many centuries, seems to have forgotten their cape.

Elusive, aren’t they, Phantoms?

Many years ago whence a child, I used to play “Telepathic Chess” with my father. It was often a way to ease the stress of long drives to London, or across France in our Austin Ambassador.

If you have never played “Telepathic Chess” it is very difficult. Players sacrifice the physical board and pieces for a conversation with their minds.

Moves are spoken and the image built in the consciousness of each player. This practise immensely improves memory skills.

Today I was reminiscing on my holidays in France and the great telepathic Chess battles with my father as a child and, as I was playing through a vaguely familiar game, it suddenly dawned on me. The piece I played was a Bishop, but unawares to my father, the piece he played… was a Phantom.

“A Phantom…?” you ask, “What in Neverland is that?”

Playing The Phantom

The Phantom Chess Piece By Simon Jepps
How the Phantom moves
The Phantom is as its name describes, an unseen spirit upon the board. It has no face, or figurine, no physical footprint or place to be seen. For the Phantom exists only in your consciousness.

When we play “Phantom Chess” we begin with a regular Chess set and play in the Classical regular manner.

Yet each player owns one Phantom, a spiritual piece with no physical presence, but which may “metaphysically” enter play at any time.

In addition to this special piece, players keep one communal piece of card on the table, upturned so as what is written cannot be seen. This is the Phantom Card.

Whenever a player moves his/her Phantom, the player announces the move by algebraic notation to the opponent and then writes its new location on the Phantom Card. The card is then turned upside down so it can no longer be read.

Each player has three lives.

Aside from when you move your own Phantom and write its new location on the card, you are permitted only three chances to look at the card and remind yourself of your opponent’s position.

Once you have looked three times you may no longer remind yourself of where the opponent’s Phantom resides ~ unless whence moving your own Phantom, or to resolve a dispute.

» Alternatively, players may only ever look at the Phantom Card to write their own move, or to resolve a dispute. This is of course a much harder variation of the game since the only way to remind yourself of the opponent’s position is to move your own Phantom.

The Phantom enters the game by announcement to any square on the board.

However the Phantom may not enter the game if to:

  • Deliver Check
  • Block Check
  • Capture

The Phantom moves one square diagonally or jumps like a Knight, in a 2,1 “L” move.

Whilst a “ghost” the Phantom is equally as real as any other piece. Thus it may not be moved “through” as if it were not there, nor have its presence “occupied” by either player, but instead may capture and be captured in the same way as all the other Classical pieces themselves.

Indeed a Phantom can deliver Check Mate.

There is only one Phantom per player because it is a specially strong piece and besides, the average Chess player would find it difficult to handle more Phantoms on the board.

Notation & Discussion

The Phantom piece is notated with an “F”.

This is not purely to avoid confusion with the Pawn, but since the “forte” symbol in music is an elaborate “f” and Opera is close to the Phantom’s heart, it only seems appropriate.

Whence communicating through Chess diagrams or computer interfaces, any kind of icon may be used, since even Classically there are no rules.

The icon used here is actually a dollar sign from an artsy Asian font by Moji Waku, thus anything goes. I really like this icon.

In regards to computer opponents, the method of play would be the same, the Phantom only shown on board whence sacrificing lives or recording its move.

Of course, if recording tournament games, then the Phantom card would not be used since a player could merely look at his own game record.

But nevertheless, the mere invisibility of the Phantom is the fundamental key to its elusively cunning strategical character.

It is this skillful engagement of memory which will deliver the Phantom’s worthy purpose in any competition scenario.

Understanding The Phantom

The problems with evolving Chess are vast and these stem not only from mathematics but also from aesthetical and commercial appeal.

On a mathematical point, increasing the size of the board renders existing mechanics incompatible and increasing the number of pieces requires not only a larger board but a sophisticated formulae for making it work.

On an aesthetical point, the historic adoration for the Classical 64 square game is so ingrained in our hearts and minds that altering its character would require a planet sized argument, even though most grandmasters agree the game must nevertheless evolve.

On a commercial point, a new game requires new materials, new equipment and the dedicated effort to publicise and promote a limitless amount of these new purchasable Chess sets. The demand must be great enough to warrant manufacture.

Enter… the Phantom.

Here then we have a piece which requires none of the above. For it does not even exist.

Mathematically it creates balance by replenishing “leaper” presence and diversity of short range combat. Aesthetically it speaks wondrous volumes for itself and commercially it has no competition.

Academically…? If ever there was a Chess piece with the power to enhance cognitive intelligence more than ever before in history, then the Phantom is that piece.

Aye, its unchartered grace about the Chess board is purely of the player’s own consciousness. Yet at the same time, its powerfully elusive influence and unmatched strategical character is of the utmost reality.

As the players sit down and the pieces play their parts, the stage curtain is only just beginning to part. The orchestra only just beginning to play and the audience only just beginning to smile.

As a woken bat flies at speed from the ancient ceiling of an aged theatre, the stage begins to turn and the spotlight shines down.

Yet, who is this masked gentleman in that old worn cloak? Is he an actor? Or, perhaps a new poet? Indeed, how many times has a play been written?

The unexpected stranger looks up into the audience, pausing to smile and take a breath, just as the scent of old musky timber catches the air.

“Forgive me if you will,” he mildly announces, “But not all men are merely players”.

Thence, into a cloud of smoke, he disappears.

Phantom Chess © Simon Jepps

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