Four-player chess
Four-handed chess.png
A popular four-player chessboard and initial setup
GenresAbstract strategy game
Chess variant
Random chanceNone
Skills requiredStrategy, tactics, psychology
SynonymsFour-handed chess
4 Player Chess
Four Player Chess

Four-player chess (also known as Four-handed chess) is a family of chess variants played with four people. The game features a special board typically made of a standard 8×8 square, with 3 rows of 8 cells each extending from each side, and requires two sets of differently colored pieces. The rules are similar to, but not the same as, regular chess. There are a variety of different rule variations; most variantions, however, share a somewhat similar board and piece setup.

The game has been around for hundreds of years, popping up in different places in Europe. Historically, the Four-handed Chess Club, which was founded by George Hope Verney around 1884 in London, is the most well known iteration. Currently, it can be played online, or bought commercially to be played in person.

Gameplay can be in teams, typically with the two partners across from each other. It can also be free-for-all, with each of the players trying to gain a decisive advantage, with no set alliances. Free-for-all can be played for points, or till the first checkmate. Table-talk, such as move suggestions, is not allowed under the FFA rules; players must decide for themselves who, when, or how to attack.


According to D. B. Prichard, Four-player chess "is generally understood to be a [1] game played with two sets on a standard board with four extensions, one on each side, usually of 8x3 squares (arguably the best arrangement) but sometimes 8x2 or 8x4, on which the pieces are set up in the normal array positions"[2]


The earliest known mention of a four-player chess game is a pamphlet from Dessau, Germany, in 1784.[3] Four-handed Chess, as it was called, grew in popularity throughout the 19th century, with variations of the game appearing in Germany, Britain, Russia, and the United States, among others.[4] Many different pamphlets sprang up, with minor rule changes, such as where the king and queen were, or how to deal with pawns that ran into each other.[5]

The biggest and most well known of the variations was the Four-handed Chess Club, founded by George Hope Loyd Verney. It began in 1884, in London. It was somewhat well known in London, and had eighty people attend its inaugural meeting. The club played until World War Two.[6]

There are a few famous people who played, or are alleged, to play the game. George Hope Verney claimed that the Czar, probably Alexandar III, played the game.[7] Prince Albert is said to have played it.[8] In addition, the game was likely played by Vladimir Lenin.[9]

FFA is a more recent invention, popping up in commercial games, while teams is the game mode historically. Contemporarily, Four-player Chess is not particularly popular. Nevertheless, there are a few commercial versions for in-person play. It can also be played online, with the biggest website being’s variants.


Piece movement and captures remain the same as regular chess.

Further information: Rules of chess

A board made of a standard 8×8 square with an additional 3 rows of 8 cells extending from each side is what is typically used for Four-player chess. Variants vary as to where the king and queen are placed; this doesn't matter for casual play. Otherwise, pieces are set up like regular chess.

Rules vary, in teams, as to how to deal with partners pawns when they run into each other. This happens sometimes because everybody moves in the forward direction, as in regular chess. When this happens for the variant, the pawns are blocked, while some variants historically allowed pawns to jump over each other if this happened.

Players are of course free to change all rules to their convenience (see the rules section in the links tab for different variations of the rules). Rules

Play starts with red, and turns are clockwise

Free For All (FFA)

The goal is to have the most points at the end of the game[10]

Pawns promote to queens on the eight rank, which is at the middle of the board.

When a player is checkmated, all their pieces turn grey. When this happens, they cannot move and don't give a player any points. A player is checkmated immediately; in other words, they don't have to wait for their opponents to move to be checkmated.

The game ends when three players are defeated. It also ends when there are two players left and one player has more than twenty points more than the other player (because, if they were checkmated, they would still win) In this case, the leading player may have to click a button that says "claim win."

Trying to influence another player to help you by communicating in the chat (such as saying "team with me" or "take queen") is against the rules. However, it is perfectly legal to aid another players attacks, or choosing not to attack a player because you would think it would benefit you.


In teams, the goal is to checkmate one of the opposing players. You work with your opposite, and can suggest moves with arrows. This time, queen promotion is on the eleventh rank. On you functionally have two armies, you and your opposite, with the exception that you are the only one that can move your army, and vise-versa. Players are checkmated on their turn. This means that, theoretically, their opposite can block the checkmate, in some cases.

Modifications for In-Person Play

In FFA, if players don't wish to record points, they can alternatively play to the first person checkmated, or the last person standing. They can also, instead of playing for checkmate, make it so that a player instead has to capture the king, like any other piece.

In Teams, table-talk is historically not allowed in in-person play. Players can play until a player is checkmated, or they can make it so that both teammates need to be checkmated.

There are many different variations of these rules, including whether the board should be 8x2 or 8x3, or where the king and queen should be.[11] Some historical variations allow the pawns to move in different directions,[12] and some current rules remove checkmate, and instead require that the kings be captured.

Four-handed Chess Club Rules

These are the major rules as adopted by the Four-handed Chess Club. This is somewhat quoted from the book 1893 book "Four Chess", which states the rules.[13]


For teams, players attempt to coordinate their attacks with their opposite. If this is not possible, then players should attempt to play strong moves, developing their pieces to premtively prevent typically double attacks from their opponents and put their pieces in strong positions to be able to coordinate attacks with their opposite. It is wise to play openings, such as (for the first player) moving the king's pawn up one, which shields against double-attacks, checks, and develop strong pieces.[14]

In FFA, it is wise to be more cautious, developing pieces and improving kings safety. Trades should only be done when they are beneficial, because, when there are four people, this weakens the traders compared to the other players. Bishops are about as strong as rooks, and both are stronger than knights. The queen is the strongest piece. One should try to develop their pieces and protect their king. In addition, players should try to avoid opening themselves up to attacks. For example, if the player to the left attacks them, then the player across from them or the player to their right can attack them as-well, guaranteeing loss of material. Likewise, players should often look for ways to attack players that allow other players to join in.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ The original text implied that Four-player chess was only a partnership game. Like the name (Four-handed Chess is also what it is listed as in the book), it is clear that the meaning has changed since the time of that book
  2. ^ Pritchard, D. B. (2007). Beasley, John (ed.). The Classified Encyclopedia of Chess Variants. John Beasley. ISBN 978-0-9555168-0-1.
  3. ^ Cazaux, Jean-Louis (2017). A World of Chess: Its Development and Variations through Centuries and Civilizations. McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-7864-9427-9.
  4. ^ Pritchard, D. B. (2007). Beasley, John (ed.). The Classified Encyclopedia of Chess Variants. John Beasley. ISBN 978-0-9555168-0-1.
  5. ^ Pritchard, D. B. (2007). Beasley, John (ed.). The Classified Encyclopedia of Chess Variants. John Beasley. ISBN 978-0-9555168-0-1.
  6. ^ Cazaux, Jean-Louis (2017). A World of Chess: Its Development and Variations through Centuries and Civilizations. McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-7864-9427-9.
  7. ^ Pritchard, D. B. (2007). Beasley, John (ed.). The Classified Encyclopedia of Chess Variants. John Beasley. ISBN 978-0-9555168-0-1.
  8. ^ van der Linde, Antonius (1881). Quellenstudien zur Geschichte des Schachspiels.
  9. ^ Pritchard, D. B. (2007). Beasley, John (ed.). The Classified Encyclopedia of Chess Variants. John Beasley. ISBN 978-0-9555168-0-1.
  10. ^ "4 Player Chess".
  11. ^ *Hooper, David; Whyld, Kenneth (1992). The Oxford Companion to Chess, Second Edition. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-1986-6164-1.
  12. ^ *Verney, George Hope (1885). Chess Eccentricities.
  13. ^ *Blythe, William Henry (1893). Four Chess.
  14. ^ *Verney, George Hope (1881). Four-handed Chess.

Further reading

Note: online formats (pdfs, google books) for some of these may be avaliable