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Flying Chess

Flying chess is a three-dimensional chess variant, which was invented in 1984 by David Eltis, now a history teacher at Eton College. It was mentioned in Variant Chess, issue 21 (Autumn 1996). Flying chess has been played at some universities and schools in Europe.


The game is played on a playing area of dimensions 8 by 8 by 2. Instead, one can also use a normal 8 by 8 board, and use markers to denote which pieces are at the higher level (those that are flying). When doing so, two pieces can occupy the same square of the 8 by 8 board: one flying, and one on ground level.

The game starts with all pieces on the lower ground level, and in the normal chess startup position.


Kings, Queens, and Pawns may not go to the higher level. They move as in orthodox chess, but can also capture an enemy piece that flies directly above them. This headbutting is explained below.

Rooks can fly: move on, to, and from the higher level. A rook can make a normal move on any of the two levels: note that the squares it passes over must be empty on the level he moves in. Additionally, a rook can go up when moving on the ground level by making a normal move and then moving diagonally up in the direction the rook moves. For example, a rook on ground square a1 can move to upper level b1, even if ground square b1 is occupied, and can move to upper level a4, when ground squares a2 and a3 are empty. They also can go up directly one level, e.g., a rook on ground square a1 can move to upper square a1. The only way a rook can go down from the upper to the lower level is to directly move one square down, e.g., from upper level square a1 to lower level square a1.

Bishops can also fly. A bishop can make a normal move on any of the two levels; make a normal move on the upper level and then descend diagonally in the direction the bishop moves, or go up from a ground square to the upper level square above it, or go down from an upper level square to the ground square below it. For instance, a bishop on ground square b1 can go to upper square b1, or make a normal move on the ground level; a bishop on upper square can move to ground squares b1, a2 (even if upper square a2 is occupied), e4 (provided upper level squares c2 and d3 are empty).

Knights are the third type of flying piece. A knight can either make a normal move in any level, make a knight move in the upper level combined with a direct descend (e.g., from upper level a1 to lower level b3), or move directly up or down (from lower level a1 to upper level a1 or vice versa.)


All pieces take in the same way as they move. Additionally, each piece can headbutt: when he is in a square on the lower level and a piece of the opponent is in the same square in the upper level, he can take that piece without moving.

Object of the game

Object is still to mate the opponents king. Rules like mate, stalemate, etc., are as in orthodox chess.


Some tactical tips of the inventor were mentioned by Pritchard in Variant Chess. Bishops are about as strong as Queens, and stronger than Rooks, because of their ability to move and descend in the same turn. Rooks are usually stronger when in the lower level. A possible fools mate is: Bishop f1 - f1 (flying), threatening mate with Bf1 (flying) - b5 (flying).

Written by Hans Bodlaender.
WWW page created: October 4, 1996.