Doubles Chess

Once upon a time, I was a registered member of the “US Chess Federation”: I competed on a fairly regular basis – half a dozen tournaments a year – and was a regular attender to the weekly practices. One of the perks of being a USCF(US Chess Federation) member is an annual subscription to _Chess Life_, the monthly periodical. In addition to all the good articles and how-to’s, along with updating member rankings, this magazine carried ads for all sorts of cool chess merchandise, most of which a high school kid with no job could only drool over.

One issue, though, pushed me over the edge to beg for some money from my folks. What got my attention was an ad for a chess variant called “Doubles Chess”: – an 8-sided board with four sets of pieces, set so 2-4 players could battle it out for each other’s kings on the same board at the same time. ((Though, the set I own has a more modern-looking board with a better color scheme.)) It was an amazing concept, and I was eager to try it out.

I really don’t remember how I badgered the money out of my folks, but they were gracious enough to give me the money to order this novelty. From the moment I pulled it out of the box, I was in awe – I’d never seen anything so cool. It took me quite some time to figure out how the pieces moved. After all, having double the number of columns and rows that meet at a point in the middle of the board proved to be somewhat problematic. Plus, the armies across from each other actually had to work together to checkmate the _other_ two kings. But in the end I found it to be relatively straightforward.

Of course, I took it to the very next chess meeting with me, showed it to the rest of my team. Everyone was interested, and a few even agreed to try playing it with me. In the end, though, a group of four playing Doubles Chess together inevitably fell off to just one – me. It was too difficult, they said, too hard to figure out and learn. The strangeness of it all made it less fun for them, I guess.

I tried a couple of times after to generate some interest in the game, and I even pulled it out a couple of times during my college years. The novelty of it always drew a small crowd initially, but something about those eight sides and four armies made everyone go cross-eyed and the interest was short-lived. I still love the idea; I still think it’s one of the coolest things to come out of the chess world. But it’s hard to play chess by oneself and harder still to play Doubles Chess alone. Perhaps one day I’ll find three brave compatriots who are willing to sit down and learn the game with me. In some ways, it’s taking chess to a whole new level and seeing it in a completely different way.

For now, though, that frontier is still empty and lonely. Few ‘old schoolers’ are willing to brave it, and few who are still fresh to the game are ready for the added complexity of Doubles.

I think I’ll pull that board out again tonight, dust it off, pull the pieces out of their little plastic bags, and set it up. If nothing else, it’s pretty to look at.

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