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OMEGA CHESS REVIEWS


GM Michael Rohde   Known for his aggressive attacking style, Michael Rohde became a Grandmaster in 1988, and writes the column Game of the Month for Chess Life. Michael won the brilliancy prize in 3 consecutive U.S. Championships, from 1986 through 1988. In 1991, he took first place in the strongest ever U.S. Open. He has tied for first in the World Open, and captured the New York State Championship, the Marshall CC and Manhattan CC Championships, and numerous other titles. His USCF rating of 2596 places him among the top 20 players in the United States.

IM Brian Hartman   Hamiltonian, Brian Hartman is a familiar presence in the Canadian chess scene. For many years he has dazzled Canadian chess players with his exciting tactical style of play. As well, he is a frequent contributor to En Passant the official magazine of The Chess Federation of Canada.

Anthony McCarthy   One of the top players on the Toronto chess scene.

Viktor Zambo   In this article, 13 year old Viktor, an up and coming star of Canada's Junior Chess scene describes his introduction to Omega Chess and details his enthusiasm for the game.

Benjamin Good   In this recent letter, Pennsylvanian, Ben Good, an avid Omega Chess player who corresponds with us regularly and who is featured on our Omega Chess Puzzles page as a contributor, offers his comments and insights into Omega Chess.


OMEGA CHESS
by GM Michael Rohde

When I was first introduced to Omega Chess, I spotted immediately that while all the elements of chess are preserved, new tactical twists are created by the extra pieces, larger board and extra corner squares. The Wizard and the Champion complement very well and quite entertainingly the different strengths of the Knight, Bishop, Rook and Queen. But even I was not prepared for Omega Chess' mushrooming in popularity - it is a spectacular hit among teenagers, Omega Chess groups have spawned in places as diverse as Toronto, New York and Budapest, and internet technology has brought us the OC javascript game player, and the OC play-by-email server.

News Letter

Dear Omega and chess friends,

If you will,look at the exciting new developments that could change the way Chess is played in the world today. The new game is Omega Chess, which is currently taking Toronto by storm, and is rapidly catching on throughout North America and beyond!

Omega Chess, whose evolution is based on what already works, features a 10-by-10 board with 4 extra corner squares (104 squares in all) and two new chess pieces, the Wizard and the Champion, which combine unique and exciting elements of the other pieces, to form a super-tactical game which will improve your standard Chess ability!

**** Here are some of the special piece movements in Omega Chess ****

On the 10-by-10 board, the Champions line up next to the rooks. The Wizards start in the extra corner squares, one square diagonally behind the Champions.

The Champion, like the Knight, is classified as a leaper. It can move one square forward, backward or to either side. Or the Champion can jump two squares forward or backward or to either side, or jump two squares diagonally in all four directions. The Champion can jump over pieces and it can control up to twelve squares.

The Wizard is also classified as a leaper. It can move one square diagonally in all four directions. Or, like an exaggerated Knight move, the Wizard can jump three squares horizontally or vertically and then one square to either side. The Wizard is bound to the color of its starting square. The Wizard can jump over pieces to also control up to twelve squares.

From its initial position, a Pawn in Omega Chess can move one, two or three squares forward and after that, only one square at a time. A Pawn cannot move one square initially and then two squares afterward. When making an initial double or triple move a Pawn cannot jump over other pieces. While Pawns move directly forward, they can only capture an opposing piece by moving one square forward diagonally.

**** End Rules Discussion, Start Strategy Discussion ****

After checking out the Omega Chess website, you might want to note the following, just so that, in your first game of Omega Chess, you are not just mated immediately!? The Scholar's Mate in chess (1.e4 e5, 2.Bc4 Bc5, 3.Qh5 Nc6?? 4 Qxf7 mate) has a direct parallel in Omega Chess. Using the Omega Chess notation (after a few games, you get used to it - note that the extra files are the most initially confusing part of the omega chess notation), this checkmate runs 1.Pf4 Pf5, 2.Bc4 Bc5, 3.Qj5 Ng7?? (defending the pawn on f5) 4.Qxg8 mate!

The message here is quite clear - you still better defend your king's bishop's pawn! An interesting point here is that a reasonable move after 3.Qj5 is 3...Ch7 (Champion to h7) - as the Champion can move two squares diagonally, it attacks the White queen on j5, defends its own pawn on f5, and blocks the queen from attacking the sensitive king's bishop's pawn on g8.

However, after 4.Qg5, for example, don't overlook that the Scholar's Mate is still being menaced, as the Champion does not move in a one-square diagonal, so there is still no protection for g8. But 4.Qg5 is not objectively strong, because Black can now play 4...Ng7, and, much like proper defense against the Scholar's Mate in chess, in Omega Chess, White will suffer because the queen has really been brought out too early.

As far as a parallel to the classic Fool's Mate (1.f3 e5, 2.g4?? Qh4 mate) goes, Omega Chess has this feature, although it would take a lot longer - for example [Omega Chess notation] 1.Pg2 Pf5, 2.Ph3 Nc7, 3.Pi4?? Qj4+, 4.Ri3 Qxi3+, 5.Ch2 Qxh2 mate!

However, Omega Chess has its own distinctive Fool's Mate: 1.Wa2 Ng7, 2.Wb5 Ni5?? 3 We6 mate!! as the Wizard with its elongated knight qualities checkmates the opposing king entirely on its own.

Well, I hope you have enjoyed this introduction to Omega Chess.

Michael Rohde
mikerohde@usa.net
Copyright 1998 Somac Inc. and Kids' Chess Network, Inc. All rights reserved.
To subscribe to the Omega Chess newsletter, write mikerohde@usa.net with the subject subscribe omega.


AN OMEGA CHESS REVIEW
by International Master Brian Hartman

I examined and played an exciting new board game called Omega Chess. Although I was initially skeptical of a game that was essentially a new form of chess, I now believe it to be a potential remedy to what ails many chess players - "With the advent of computer databases chess is no longer an art, but an exercise in memorization.", or "Many openings lead to known, forced conclusions. Chess may lead to a similar fate to that of checkers, where certain openings are banned from competitive play."

Attempting to improve on chess is not new. Capablanca suggested rearranging the placement of pieces, Pal Benko invented "pre- chess" where the first moves of the game determine piece placement along the first rank and Bobby Fischer recently announced "Fischer Random Chess", again changing the starting position of the pieces.

Omega Chess has taken an evolutionary approach, building on what already works. This is done by expanding the traditional 8 x 8 game board to a 10 x 10 board, and adding two new pieces to the existing chess family: the Champion and the Wizard.

The Champion can move one square forward or backward or to either side or jump two squares forward or backward or to either side and it can also jump two squares diagonally, forward or backward. The Champion can jump over pieces. The Wizard can move one square diagonally in all four directions. Or, like an exaggerated Knight move, the Wizard can jump three squares horizontally or vertically and then one square to either side. The Wizard is bound to the color of its starting square. The Wizard can jump over pieces to also control up to twelve squares.

I have had the pleasure of playing Omega Chess with some of my chess master friends who have commented that the new pieces and board offer an exciting range of tactical and strategic possibilities, encouraging a more open style of play than the traditional form of chess. Omega Chess will be especially attractive to players who desire a game where the creation of ideas will be their own, not simply the echo of games studied from a computer database. Key factors that may make Omega Chess the game for the next millennium are:

(a) the board and two new pieces and their moves maintain the critical balance of power of traditional chess.
(b) the placement of the traditional pieces are the same, maintaining the international rules and principles of traditional chess.

The only change in Omega Chess from traditional chess is that Pawns can move one, two or three squares on their initial move. All other rules are in place. Thus, you are still playing chess!

I highly recommend Omega Chess for beginners to advanced masters desiring to go back to chess basics, where it is truly a battle of wits, not who has the better research. Omega Chess could well prove to be the next evolution of chess.

Brian Hartman

AN OMEGA CHESS REVIEW
by Anthony McCarthy

There are many aspects of the game which I find commendable: The larger board allows for more elaborate attack/defense strategies. The additional pieces (along with the larger board) give you the opportunity to indulge in tactical battles, without the fear that you will not have sufficient material (nearby!) to defend, or apply mating pressure.

The new pieces themselves provide additional scope to the game and require that the player be hyper-aware of their range and potential. (Especially the Wizards, which have a nasty tendency to appear as if by magic!) The loss of a major piece (not including intentional sacrifices) does not automatically mean that you have lost the game, as it often does in regular Chess.

The possibility for combinations, and the variety of combinations, is vastly improved. And (I feel) the most important aspect of OmegaChess is that there are no book lines, as yet. This means that there is a level playing field for everyone! It is not (yet) necessary to know the every opening line and major variation to the 15th move in order to win.

All of these points add to the thrill and enjoyment of the game. And since the basic 'look & feel' (not to mention the importance of positional play!) has not altered very significantly from regular Chess, all the experience and skill acquired there is definitely of use here. In fact, for those who wish to simply improve there regular Chess, playing OmegaChess is a terrific tool to do this with. Once you have spent time playing OmegaChess, doing the calculations for exchanges and looking for unique combinations, all the while guarding against incursion into the larger playing area, going back to regular Chess makes doing all of that seem simplistic by comparison.

So, all in all, I recommend OmegaChess to all serious Chess players and to anyone simply wishing to add another dimension, or extra thrill, to Chess. There is no doubt that I enjoy the game.

Anthony McCarthy


OMEGA STORY
by Viktor Zambo

I opened my eyes one day to find it to be my regular boring old day. I washed, did the usual, and got a call from one of my friends asking whether I would like to go to the Ontario Science Centre later that day. I answered yes, but was then countered by the thought that I have been to every part of the Science Centre and know it all off by heart. I went with a grave hope that there would be something new there, if at least just one thing. I entered the Science Centre and went to the top level to go and have a look at the souvenir shop.

As I came to the top, I noticed 2 teens playing blitz chess. I myself, rated 2136, love playing blitz chess and watched entertainingly as they played a three game match. As I turned away, I noticed the game end, and the players turn the board over to the other side. I looked back and noticed another chess board; this one though, was bigger than the other, and had 4 more squares on the corners of the board.

They set it up as a regular chess board, and then put on two extra pieces on it. what an advantage this must be! I thought. Two games in one. I then read the manual and learned many things. First, the name of the game is Omega Chess. The two new pieces are the Wizard, and the Champion. The chess pieces are set up normally, while the champion goes beside the rook, and the wizard goes onto the outer corner square. Brilliant I exclaimed to myself as I tried to observe all of the tactical possibilities of the two players.

I even found the el cheapo mate in three in the beginning with the wizard. I became so interested that I offered to play the winner a 3-game match. I lost miserably in the first two games, but then came back to win the last after I had gotten the hang of it. My score for the day was 5-2 with Omega Chess.

I wanted to know more about the possibilities of this game. I went to the Omega website and was absolutely amazed to see that this was being endorsed by Grandmaster Michael Rhode!!! I have heard of him and admire his aggressive play. This was the first time in history that a game like this was being sponsored by a Grandmaster! Even chess is not being supported like this. Obviously, he foresees a great future for this game. After playing the game some more, I realized that it improved my regular chess skills. It helps me identify more tactical possibilities.

After even more research, I have found out that even schools are buying in to this game. The teachers are in agreement that this game is truly addictive, especially for the young mind. It is like developing more tunnels in a mountain so that rather than go around it, encountering obstacles that may be hard to overcome, it is developing a path that is easy to use, and is efficient. This relates a lot to the way the young mind works. I should know - I am still a kid.

Viktor Zambo, 13 a grade 8 student at Kane


OMEGA CHESS
by Benjamin C. Good

As a regular contributor to Hans Bodlaender's Chess Variants webpage and a longtime player on Richard's Play-by-Email server and Freeling's Mindsport Arena, I have played a lot of chess variants: large and small, simple and complex, historical and modern, three-dimensional, four-dimensional, hexagonal, you name it. Compared to some of these games, Omega Chess seems downright tame. And anyone familiar with chess variants over the years knows that commercial games invented in hopes of becoming the 'new chess' are a dime-a-dozen (and often poor games as well). As Pritchard puts it in the introduction to his Encyclopedia of Chess Variants, "Anyone can invent a chess variant in 10 minutes, and many people have (try it)." In the case of Omega Chess however, I have become a big fan and have a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the game's future.

To start with, let's take a look at the game itself. The 8x8 chess board has been expanded to 10x10, with an additional four squares, one on each corner. In addition to the standard army of chess pieces, each player receives two extra pawns, two champions, and two wizards. The new pieces are an interesting combination of historical pieces that allows them to work in a modern setting. The champion leaps exactly two squares in any direction, or moves a single square in any orthogonal direction. Two-square leapers appear in numerous historical variants, but the inherent problem with them is that they can only ever reach one-fourth of the board. The single orthogonal step solves this problem.

The wizard makes an elongated knight move, leaping three squares in one orthogonal direction and then one square in a perpendicular direction (compare to the knight, which leaps two squares and then one), or the wizard can move a single square in any diagonal direction. The wizard also has historical forerunners; its long leap appears in numerous historical variants in a piece traditionally called the camel. The camel is an extremely awkward piece to use (and in my humble opinion, usually not fun to play with). Again, the addition of the single diagonal step makes the piece much easier to work with. The wizard is unique in that it has the ability to attack pieces hiding behind a wall of pawns without being threatened by those pawns. It is also similar to the bishop in that it is colorbound - that is, it is confined to all squares of the same color.

Besides the new pieces and the larger board, the only change is that the pawns can now make an initial step of three squares as well as one or two. The en passant rules have been expanded accordingly. (I like the en passant rule, which I think makes sense and adds to the game. Many commercial chess variants don't mention en passant even though it would still work in their game. I suspect this is because it rarely occurs in games and that chess players will know to add it in anyway, but whenever en passant is missing, I always feel like the game company thinks we are not smart enough to handle it.) Castling, promotion, stalemate, and the 50 move rule are all unchanged.

The following relative values have been given for the pieces: pawn=1, knight=3, wizard, champion, bishop=4, rook=6, queen=12. Anyone who has seriously studied the relative values of chess pieces, standard or otherwise, knows that the relative values of pieces are never that simple. But the list presented here does have a valuable function in that it gives new players a general guideline with which to start. You'd think that if somebody was going to put money into manufacturing and marketing a new game, that they'd think it through carefully and test the game to make sure it is sound. Yet I have seen many games where it seems that the inventor had an idea that sounded good, but doesn't actually work when put into practice. So far with Omega Chess, we have interesting new pieces, but that doesn't necessarily mean we have a good game.

Fortunately, Omega Chess is well thought-out. The new pieces are placed in logical positions in the opening setup so that they can readily be developed along with the other pieces. Additionally, by leaving the array of the standard chess pieces untouched, some of the pitfalls of some other variants are avoided. For example, many games place new pieces in between the knights and bishops, or in between the bishops and the king/queen. This pushes the knights farther away from the center, where it is difficult to effectively develop them to positions where they can help protect pawns in the center without getting the way of other pieces. And if a single piece is placed in-between the knight and the bishop, it means a fianchetto now blocks the square to which the knight would normally develop. Also, there are no unprotected pawns in the starting setup, something I think we take for granted. Anyone who has played a variant in which there are unprotected pawns knows that the first thing that happens is the players attack these pawns, and this has a great tendency to dictate play from the get-go.

So Omega Chess is a good game. But there's more to it than that. For one thing, the Omega Chess sets are nice. The standard chess pieces are solid plastic House of Staunton style, and could be used at USCF tournaments. The new pieces are well designed both to fit in with the style of the standard pieces and to reflect the names given to them. Boards are double folding cardboard, and have a standard chess board on the reverse side. At about $20 US, sets are reasonably priced and affordable. But selling a lot of sets doesn't necessarily help popularize a game either, if the sets are simply sitting on shelves unplayed.

Perhaps the most important thing about Omega Chess as far its popular success is concerned, is that people are playing it. Tournaments, with prize funds and rated games, are held every few months in Toronto, and tournaments in other cities are being organized. You can now play the game for free on Richard's Play-by-Email server. The game is endorsed by chess Grandmaster Michael Rohde and Grandmaster Alex Sherzer. In itself, this doesn't mean much - I've seen some lousy games endorsed by grandmasters, presumably because they are being paid. But Rohde and Sherzer aren't just endorsing it, they are playing it, studying it, analyzing it, and sending out regular emails on what they discover. The Omega Chess webpage is a growing collection of strategies, ideas, puzzles, and games, and I plan to make some contributions myself.