Interview with the creator of BEYOND CHESS
In the following interview with RAY CROCKETT, the creator of Beyond Chess, we delve deeper into the origin and the future of a new way of playing this ancient game.
In the past, only pieces and pawns were moved in chess. This has changed in BEYOND CHESS, the variant where an empty square on the board can also be shifted after each move.
INTERVIEWER: Good evening, Ray! First, I would like to thank you for granting me this interview. I’ve been playing Beyond Chess with you and others players since September 2021 and with each match I am discovering new tactics, strategies, and unprecedented concepts!
One of the most interesting aspects of Beyond Chess is that the players start calculating their first moves even before the opening, analyzing the setup board of movable squares itself. I’ve already composed some Beyond Chess boards and I always have the feeling that I’m creating a mandala-like labyrinth full of different paths towards a checkmate that I thought it would never be possible! Could you comment on this topic a little longer?
RAY CROCKETT: Thank you so much for this opportunity to discuss Beyond Chess. The most defining feature of Beyond Chess is the Kinetic Chess Board (patent pending), a board made up of individual squares that can be manipulated as part of the gameplay and strategy of playing Beyond Chess. This adds several new dynamics to chess that create unlimited possibilities on many levels. Since the board is made from individual squares that are put together in a layout to begin a game, players are not limited to the traditional 8×8 square board. Each new board design offers its own strategic challenges players must navigate. This often forces players to take a more measured approach to even their first move, as the best move may be different from board layout to board layout. The ability to play unlimited board designs keeps challenges fresh and creative as players explore the unlimited possibilities of the universe of chess. Another key factor to the moving board, is the strategic significance of being able to shift a square and move the empty spaces where there is no square, called Rift. Since pieces cannot land on the rift and only the Knight can jump over it, pieces must play around rifts as the board changes shape, adding levels of strategy to the game never seen before. The idea was to mimic the ever-changing modern battlefield more closely.
INTERVIEWER: You created Beyond Chess in 2001 while serving in The Marine Corps. What were the influences of this experience in modern warfare that inspired you to create Beyond Chess? And what benefits can traditional chess players gain by playing Beyond Chess? In my case, my vision of the traditional 8×8 fixed squares board has increased a lot and I can now better locate those pieces and pawns that usually go unnoticed in certain areas of the board until the moment they are activated to our surprise! Blunders in traditional chess occur when we move (or fail to move) certain pieces and pawns in the right order, but in Beyond Chess even the correct move with a piece or pawn can still convert to a blunder if the chosen square is wrong or shifted to the wrong direction.
RAY CROCKETT: I was influenced by the training I received in the Marine Corps. Traditional chess is based on war tactics centered around two opposing armies meeting and maneuvering on an open field of battle. This was due in large part to logistical limitation of the time. This style of battle was pretty much the norm throughout history until modern advances in weapons and transportation provided a more dynamic environment that is constantly changing. Marines train to adapt to changing environments, which is why they are such a formidable force. The Kinetic Chess Board provides an environment that more closely mimics the ever-changing modern battlefield because not only can every game start in a different environment, but it is constantly changing as you play, which makes not only maneuvering the pieces part of the strategy, but also manipulating the environment itself. A great example is building or blowing up a bridge to affect the mobility of a combat force. When a square is shifted in Beyond Chess, it’s like a bridge being built in one location, while being destroyed in another. In combat, it’s not enough to simply maneuver your troops around a battlefield, the battlefield itself is constantly changing and effects the effectiveness of the armies. When I was in Iraq, my unit was supposed to use a bridge to cross into Baghdad. When we got there, the bridge was destroyed, and we had to maneuver around to find a different route. Shifting a square represents this very important dynamic. And just like real combat, you must plan to make sure you have an avenue of attack while denying your opponent one. If you are not careful, you can get your troops trapped behind enemy lines by shifting the wrong square. Beyond Chess really is the ultimate chess strategy challenge because you can’t rely on textbook strategy to play a game; you must adapt to an ever-changing battlefield and control the chaos of war to dominate your opponent. It is widely known in the military that no plan survives first contact with the enemy (Helmuth von Moltke, 1871), and that is no truer than in Beyond Chess. The winner is the one who is the most adaptable, not the most planned.
INTERVIEWER: This is fascinating because, after more than 1500 years of chess history, no other variant has even considered playing with the squares of the board!
Another question regarding the original BEYOND CHESS KINETIC BOARD concept. While there are boards in Beyond Chess with 64 squares, there are others with less and others with more squares. How to find the ideal proportion of squares, pieces, and pawns to compose a board with maximum playability? As I build new boards and play Beyond Chess on them, I feel like I’m not even touching this giant’s skin! The new tactics, strategies, and principles that we find in each game show us that we are facing a creature that has surpassed its creator’s expectations!
RAY CROCKETT: Not all board designs and layouts are created equal in Beyond Chess. Each board design certainly offers completely different challenges, and even the smallest changes in a design can significantly change the dynamic if the game. There are several factors to consider when designing a new board that will work well. First, regardless of its size, a typical Beyond Chess board should be balanced, with the same pieces and squares on each side of the board. In other words, each side of the board should be a mirror copy of the other side. This ensures a balanced game to begin. Another factor is the ratio of squares to rifts to pieces. If you have too few squares, the pieces may not be able to move in any meaningful way. That’s not to say the board would not be playable, but it could be too restrictive to be a truly viable board. I find that boards which have closer to 64 squares provide the truest chess experience and provides a balanced number of move options to make the game competitive. Smaller boards with less than 40 squares tend to feel more like chess puzzles, and larger boards with more than 70 squares feel more epic but can take longer to play. With so many options, there is something new for everyone to enjoy.
I have designed boards that were simply not playable because the limited number of squares did not provide enough strategic options which gave one player a distinct advantage over their opponent. However, with a little tweaking, a board design can be fine-tuned to be playable, maybe by removing some of the pieces, or removing some rifts to allow more move choices. But I believe that any board can be playable if the right ratio of piece/squares/rifts are found, and finding that ratio for a new board design is part of the creative process. Beyond Chess board design is not only an art, but it also requires some thought and planning to ensure a challenging and unique experience.
But at the end of the day, with so many options and possibilities, you can never really run out of fun chess challenges to explore and discover while playing Beyond Chess. Beyond Chess is the only chess variant that offers such a rich and dynamic chess experience. Other chess variations are limited to the board design on which they are played. The boards are played on, not played with. That is the biggest difference, and one that we are only beginning to understand and appreciate.
INTERVIEWER: The BEYOND CHESS DIGITAL app will soon be released and there will be matches in which the opponent will be an engine. If this engine plays as well with pieces and pawns as it does with squares and has the strength of a Stockfish every turn, then it will be a powerful opponent! Could you comment more on BEYOND CHESS DIGITAL and what the future holds for chess players?
RAY CROCKETT: This is a very exciting time for chess. The beloved game is finally getting the proper sequel it’s been waiting for 1500 years. Modern chess has been mastered. Every move has been calculated and played countless times in rote. Beyond Chess doesn’t just offer a new and fresh way to play, it’s new and fresh every single time you play, never the same twice. BEYOND CHESS DIGITAL will not only allow chess players to explore the universe of chess with a freedom never thought of, but our new chess engine will adapt and provide a challenge never seen before for all levels of play. Players will also be able to play others around the world, build their Beyond Chess rating and climb the international leaderboard. Not only will Beyond Chess offer more than 150 unique board designs to play with, but the game will also offer a build mode to design your own board and layouts for almost endless possibilities.
Beyond Chess will not be limited to the digital app. Soon after the official launch of the app, we will be launching Official Beyond Chess sets featuring the Kinetic Chess Board to bring the game to your kitchen table. We will then be launching the Beyond Chess Federation with international clubs and tournaments that will offer every bit the commutative environment of the USCF and FIDE. Beyond Chess will offer a whole new generation of chess players the opportunity to make their mark in the world of chess like never before. We look forward to seeing who will become the first Beyond Chess Grand Master and World Champion.
INTERVIEWER: Great news, Ray!
The constellation of moves with pieces and pawns and shifts with squares, opening and closing rifts, makes Beyond Chess a real challenge every turn! Therefore, it is more important to recognize a thousand patterns of positioning of pieces, pawns, as well as squares and rifts, than to memorize ten thousand openings and tactics. This will likely be the future of learning Chess! In addition to numerous traps and the possibility of a sudden turnaround in matches, most of Beyond Chess’ tactics and strategies are still unheard of. What advice would you have for players who decide to venture into this uncharted new territory of Beyond Chess?
RAY CROCKETT: The first key to understanding Beyond Chess is understanding the relationship between the pieces, the board, and the rift, the three elements, forces if you will. The pieces are your armies, the board represents a piece of battlefield, like a bridge they can cross. The Rift represents the part of the battlefield that cannot be occupied, like a destroyed bridge. The three elements effect the game equally. A good Beyond Chess player will be the one who most effectively manipulates these three elements into a checkmate. It’s not only challenging and crazy fun to play, but also like watching a piece of living art as you play. The battlefield evolves as combat of the mind plays out like an elegant dance of war. It’s really the ultimate chess challenge for the mind. It levels the playing field to who can out chess the other.
I envision a community of millions of Beyond Chess players playing epic games of Beyond Chess, recording them like we do and posting them to share with the world. Not only is every game mesmerizing to watch, but it’s fascinating to see for the visible effects of combat on the battlefield as the board evolves. It’s sort a kind of living art that just so happens to be the best game of chess you’ll ever play!
This opens up the opportunity for a whole new generation of chess players to create new strategies using the three elements of war. It literally resets chess and allows for endless new strategies to be discovered, mastered, and shared. It’s chess at its purest form because it’s not about memorization. It’s about really understanding how the pieces work together, no matter what the situation is. Chess is the same situation over and over and over again. You can never play the same game of Beyond Chess twice. It will always be a whole new chess experience. And every board offers a whole new adventure like a planet in the universe of chess. Beyond Chess is your portal to explore this universe of chess.
INTERVIEWER: Undoubtedly! Since the hallmark of Beyond Chess is the shift with the squares, the pair of Knights — due to the greater mobility of this piece, jumping over the Rifts — outperformed the pair of Bishops. The Queen has preserved its firepower although it can be cornered and isolated at the edges of the board. And the King became more difficult to be surrounded as the chances of stalemate increased. All these and other peculiarities of this game make the dynamics of the matches accelerate to unthinkable levels! Is that why you often say that Bobby Fischer would have loved Beyond Chess? In Fischer’s view, the most important thing in chess is creativity. Could you comment a little more on that?
RAY CROCKETT: From what I’ve read of Fischer, he became bored with chess in his later years because he felt, as many chess enthusiasts have echoed, that chess has been mastered. Every move has been calculated and all the best lines of attack have been found, named, and played countless times. Chess players are constantly debating over which opening or middle game is best. Therefore, Fischer argued for his Fischer Random Chess, to make the game more dynamic. However, Beyond Chess takes this concept to the ultimate level by making the board shape itself not only change from game to game but move to move. Chess is known as a very repetitive game and it’s due completely because it’s played on an 8×8 board. Other variations offer a novel new board shape of some sort, but then that’s it. You could literally never play the same board shape twice when playing Beyond Chess, so players must rely completely on their own minds to play rather than their memories of how others would play a situation. So, yes, I believe Fischer would have loved Beyond Chess.
The most incredible thing about Beyond Chess is that is always feels like you’re simply playing chess, but somehow a completely free flowing form of it. it’s a much purer competition between two players than any other chess variation. Beyond Chess still uses classic chess techniques like forks, pins, and skewers, but strategies such as the Ruy Lopez and Sicilian Defense, won’t work on most Beyond Chess boards. You must figure it out rather than play through a recognized pattern. And if you start to get into patterns on a particular board, you can always play another board and have a whole new chess experience.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, and chess engines like Stockfish, Komodo and Leela Zero have changed forever the way chess is played and understood. Another question: one of the original novelties of Beyond Chess is the empowerment of pawns that Philidor considered “the soul of chess”. Could you comment on the “Geret” double move?
RAY CROCKETT: Gereting is key to keeping pawns in the game and gives them a superpower: they can “ride” the square they are on across a rift in the board. Not only can they ride the square forward, but they can also ride it left or right, and there is no limit to the number of times you can Geret in a game. Players have two moves each turn, they move a piece, and then shift an unoccupied square. However, a pawn can shift with their square forward, left or right (but never backwards). This ends the player’s turn since they have used both of their moves together.
Gereting provides two tactical advantages. First, it keeps pawns actively in the game in case they run into a rift. Other pieces can change their direction and are able to navigate a Beyond Chess board more easily. Gereting allows pawns to cross a rift by shifting with the square. Second, since they are riding a shifting square, they can also shift right or left, which gives them the ability to move from one file to another. This makes Gereting a very powerful move because it can shift the power on the board very quickly. A Knight on D4 can be threatening a pawn on B3, but if the pawn can Geret to C3, then it is now threatening the knight. You can even use Gereting to score a checkmate. Gereting is one of the major dynamics that makes Beyond Chess work so elegantly and balanced.
INTERVIEWER: One last question. Chess from its beginnings is basically a game of hunting and capturing. And that requires rapid development of the pieces and pawns to attack the opposing Kingside. And defend with the same mobility. This basic strategy is well known and governs all games for both recreational players and grandmasters. Even the most powerful engines follow these parameters, evaluating the value of pieces and squares to choose the best moves. On some boards, due to the initial placement of the King and Rook on separate lines, or the absence of the Rook or the number of squares between the King and the Rooks, there is no possibility of Castling for both players. Such a setup requires new strategies and tactics to protect and attack the Kings. Could you comment on these and other strategic differences and similarities between conventional chess and Beyond Chess?
RAY CROCKETT: The dynamic of the moving board in Beyond Chess presents all new tactics to be developed and explored, like uncharted territory. Traditional chess has been doing this for more than 1000 years and many strategies and counter strategies have been perfected and played countless times. Now that the board can be setup in any way to begin and is ever changing through a game, traditional tactics do not necessarily work, but many of their lessons and broader strategic concepts can still be applied. Forks, skewers, and pins work great in Beyond Chess, and can be even more dramatic and sneaky when shifting a square to reveal the attack. There are many new tactics that are now available as well, such as a Knight’s Mate, Bishop’s Mate and Rook’s Mate, using only one piece to checkmate, something you can’t do in traditional chess.
Strategy in traditional chess and all other chess variations is about manipulating the pieces since the board just sits there. However, in Beyond Chess, the board and rifts are just as important as the pieces, giving three distinct elements to manipulate to develop a winning strategy. Shifting a square opens an avenue in one location, but the rift also gets shifted and closes an avenue. As we like to say, paths to victory one moment become traps of defeat the next. You can use this technique to isolate pieces and essentially trap them, forcing your opponent to either abandon that piece, or spend valuable moves trying to free it.
Controlling the center is still very important, however, with a moving battlefield, the center can shift during a game, and you can have more than one center, just like modern combat.
The only thing you lose from traditional chess is the ability to play through using memorized and formulaic strategies, but what you gain is a whole new universe of possibilities to be explored with unlimited potential. The greater concepts of strategy in chess still work, and good chess players make great Beyond Chess players. Playing Beyond Chess is also great for developing analyzation skills, spatial awareness and much more.
Beyond Chess doesn’t replace chess, however, if you’re finding chess a bit repetitive at times and want a new challenge that will never get boring, then Beyond Chess is for you! At the end of the day, the most magical thing about Beyond Chess is it still feels like playing chess, just a lot more fun and challenging!
INTERVIEWER: Chess players might be curious about how to notate a game of Beyond Chess…
RAY CROCKETT: Beyond Chess can be notated, which makes it very competitive because you can record matches, replay them, study them, and improve your game. Beyond Chess notation is almost identical to traditional chess notation, with only the addition of notation for square shifts and Gereting. The key to being able to notate any shape and size board is an extended grid and a sketched diagram of the starting position of each piece and square on the grid. This allows someone to recreate a particular board layout, and then play through the game using the notation. The Beyond Chess grid extends further than the traditional files of A-H (…~c, ~b, ~a, a, b, c… f, g, h, i, j, k…) and ranks of 1-8 (…~3, ~2, ~1, 1, 2, 3… 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11…). There is an official Beyond Chess Notation sheet featuring a grid to diagram the beginning setup. It’s as easy to learn as traditional notation and anyone who already knows how to notate a chess game will understand it right away. Notation will pave the way for learning, studying, teaching Beyond Chess and tournament competition of all sizes. We will also be producing pre-diagrammed notation sheets for all official Beyond Chess boards, so players won’t have to sketch them out every time.
INTERVIEWER: Thank you, Ray! Now, on to our next game of BEYOND CHESS!
RAY CROCKETT: Thank, I always look forward to playing you! Although Beyond Chess is every bit as competitive as traditional chess, at its heart is a spirit of exploration of chess, allowing players to experience chess in endless ways. This keeps the spirit of chess fresh, new, and literally ever evolving! GO BEYOND CHESS!
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To learn about the simple rules of BEYOND CHESS and watch the matches in this fascinating new game, visit the following links:
GOBEYONDCHESS.COM (official website)