While trying to teach my 4 year oldson the rules of chess, I found it difficult to explain the rules of check, checkmate and stalemate. Having already explained the moves of each piece and how capturing works, I found it much easier to say simply that one wins by capturing the other king.

Was this variant ever considered and would strategy be significantly different from normal chess? What are the essential differences between normal chess and this (arguably simpler to explain) variant?

What I can think of are the following:

  • there's more chance of losing due to a "silly mistake", by "stepping into check" or failing to move out of it.

  • a particular kind of stalemate is now impossible. If one is not currently checked but can only move into a check, then one loses, whereas in normal chess this is a stalemate.

These don't seem like crucial problems. Am I overlooking something else? How to "motivate" the normal rules when teaching chess to a child?

3 Answers 3


Other than making stalemate impossible as you already mentioned, it doesn't seem to me like this would make a meaningful difference (or any difference) to the strategy of the game. If you allow your King to be captured, that's presumably the worst move you could possibly make, so with best play the King wouldn't be captured until after it has been checkmated conventionally anyway.

Especially when teaching the rules to a four-year-old, I'd say this house rule is totally benign, as long as it's eventually explained that it's nonstandard, once he's got a better grasp on the game.

  • Thanks, this confirms what I thought. Also, I found that historically, similar changes were considered before: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalemate#Proposed_rule_change Jan 8, 2015 at 15:03
  • 3
    There is a rule that a piece blocking check to its own king can give check to the enemy king. This rule is easiest to explain by reverting to your "house rules" to explain that whoever captures the enemy king first wins.
    – anotherguy
    May 6, 2018 at 15:28
  • The ability to castle out of check would change some opening theory, e.g. 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.O-O!!
    – bof
    Oct 14, 2019 at 3:23

How about a solution that doesn't involve deviating from rules of chess?

You could simply say that putting your king in check or moving it into check is an illegal move, and that 2nd illegal move loses the game (or 1st or 3rd illegal depending on how liberal or strict you want to be). This is actually used in tournaments.

As for motivation for the checkmate rule, you could say you win only by making the opposing king surrender, but not by killing him.

(sidenote: satranj the precursor chess, had variant were the win was by capturing opponent's king. In all variations of early satranj, capturing all other pieces or stalemate were ways to win)


It is a simplification of the rules which mostly does not seem to affect the opening and middle game. It does affect the end-game and in that case it seems to change the outcomes for the better, giving more wins to the player with material advantage. One other side-effect is that it eliminates the rationale for underpromotions (to rook or bishop) that only make sense when they avoid stalemate. In this sense only can it be said to make the game less rich, but this probably affects chess puzzles more than the game itself. Perhaps we'd just get more of a focus on puzzles aiming for a stalemate when that would be a win.

Other ways of regaining the lost flavor of underpromotions are possible, but require further changes. A sufficient condition for making underpromotion viable again, is to give both rook and bishop a move that the queen does not have. The mildest possibility might be to restrict the queen to a range of 5 or 6 (instead of the usual 7 on an 8x8 board) or giving both rooks and bishops an additional jump to the second square in their usual path (in addition to their one-square jump).

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