Three-dimensional chess (or 3D chess) is any chess variant that uses multiple boards representing different levels, allowing the chess pieces to move in three physical dimensions. In practical play, this is usually achieved by boards representing different layers being laid out next to each other.
Three-dimensional variants have existed since at least the late 19th century, one of the oldest being Raumschach (German for '"Space chess"'), invented in 1907 by Ferdinand Maack and considered the classic 3D game. Maack founded a Raumschach club in Hamburg in 1919, which remained active until World War II.
Chapter 25 of David Pritchard's The Classified Encyclopedia of Chess Variants discusses some 50 such variations extending chess to three dimensions as well as a handful of higher-dimensional variants. Chapter 11 covers variants using multiple boards normally set side by side which can also be considered to add an extra dimension to chess.
"Three-dimensional chess" is used colloquially to describe complex, dynamic systems with many competing entities and interests, including politics, diplomacy and warfare. To describe an individual as "playing three-dimensional chess" implies a higher-order understanding and mastery of the system beyond the comprehension of their peers or ordinary observers.
Lionel Kieseritzky (1806-1853) developed Kubikschach (German for Cube Chess) in 1851.He used an 8×8×8 board, labelling the third dimension with Greek letters alpha through theta. This format was later picked up by Maack in 1907 when developing Raumschach. According to David Pritchard, this format is:
the most popular 3-D board amongst inventors, and at the same time the most mentally indigestible for the players [...] Less demanding on spatial vision, and hence more practical, are those games confined to three 8×8 boards and games with boards smaller than 8×8.
Ferdinand Maack (1861–1930) developed Raumschach (German for Space Chess) in 1907. He contended that for chess to be more like modern warfare, attack should be possible not only from a two-dimensional plane but also from above (aerial) and below (underwater). Maack's original formulation was for an 8×8×8 board, but after experimenting with smaller boards eventually settled on 5×5×5 as best. Other obvious differences from standard chess include two additional pawns per player, and a special piece (two per player) named unicorn.
The Raumschach 3D board can be thought of as a cube sliced into five equal spaces across each of its three major coordinal planes. This sectioning yields a 5×5×5 (125-cube) gamespace. The cubes (usually represented by squares and often called cells) alternate in color in all three dimensions.
The horizontal levels are denoted by capital letters A through E. Ranks and files of a level are denoted using algebraic notation. White starts on the A and B levels and Black starts on E and D.
White moves first. The game objective, as in standard chess, is checkmate. Rooks, bishops, and knights move as they do in chess in any given plane.
Probably the most familiar 3D chess variant to the general public is the game of Tri-Dimensional Chess (or Tri-D Chess), which can be seen in many Star Trek TV episodes and movies, starting with the original series (TOS) and proceeding in updated forms throughout the subsequent movies and spinoff series.
The original Star Trek prop was crafted using boards from 3D Checkers and 3D Tic-Tac-Toe sets available in stores at the time (games also seen in TOS episodes) and adding chess pieces from the futuristic-looking Classic chess set designed by Peter Ganine in 1961.The design retained the 64 squares of a traditional chessboard, but distributed them onto separate platforms in a hierarchy of spatial levels, suggesting to audiences how chess adapted to a future predominated by space travel. Rules for the game were never invented within the series – in fact, the boards are sometimes not even aligned consistently from one scene to the next within a single episode.
The Tri-D chessboard was further realized by its inclusion in the Star Trek Star Fleet Technical Manual by Franz Joseph, who created starting positions for the pieces and short, additional rules.
The complete Standard Rules for the game were originally developed in 1976 by Andrew Bartmess (with encouragement from Joseph) and were subsequently expanded by him into a commercially available booklet.A free summary in English of the Standard Rules is contained on Charles Roth's website, including omissions and ambiguities regarding piece moves across the four Tri-D gameboard 2×2 attack boards.
A complete set of tournament rules for Tri-Dimensional Chess written by Jens Meder is available on his website. Meder's rules are based on FIDE's rules more than Andrew Bartmess' Standard Rules, with some deviations too. A repository of Tournament Rules games can be found on the website of Michael Klein.
Plans for constructing a Tri-D chessboard can be found on The Chess Variant Pages , as well as in Bartmess' Tri-D Chess Rules. Details for building a travel-size board are included on Meder's website.
There is software for playing Tri-D Chess. Parmen (potentially named for a lead character in the episode Plato's Stepchildren ) is a Windows application written by Doug Keenan and available free on his website. A free Android version of Tri D Chess is offered by AwfSoft.
As well as in Star Trek, multi-dimensional chess games are featured in various fictional works, usually in a futuristic or science fiction setting. Examples include Blake's 7, UFO, Starman Jones, Unreal 2, the Legion of Super-Heroes, Doctor Who, The Big Bang Theory, and The Lego Movie. The concept is parodied in Futurama as tridimensional Scrabble .
A chessboard is the type of used for the game of chess, on which the chess pawns and are placed. A chessboard is usually square in shape, with an alternating pattern of squares in two colours. Traditionally wooden boards are made of unstained light and dark brown woods. To reduce cost, many boards are made with veneers of more expensive woods glued to an inner piece of plywood or chipboard. A variety of colours combinations are used for plastic, vinyl, and silicone boards. Common dark-light combinations are black and white, as well as brown, green or blue with buff or cream. Materials vary widely; while wooden boards are generally used in high-level games; vinyl, plastic, and cardboard are common for less important tournaments and matches and for home use. Decorative glass and marble boards are rarely permitted for games conducted by national or international chess federations. When they are permitted, they must meet various criteria
Alice chess is a chess variant invented in 1953 by V. R. Parton which employs two chessboards rather than one, and a slight alteration to the standard rules of chess. The game is named after the main character "Alice" in Lewis Carroll's work Through the Looking-Glass, where transport through the mirror into an alternate world is portrayed on the chessboards by the after-move transfer of chess pieces between boards A and B.
Capablanca chess is a chess variant invented in the 1920s by former World Chess Champion José Raúl Capablanca. It incorporates two new pieces and is played on a 10×8 board. Capablanca believed that chess would be played out in a few decades. This threat of "draw death" for chess was his main motivation for creating a more complex version of the game.
Grand chess is a large-board chess variant invented by Dutch games designer Christian Freeling in 1984. It is played on a 10×10 board, with each side having two additional pawns and two new pieces: the marshal and the cardinal.
Dice chess can refer to a number of chess variants in which dice are used to alter gameplay; specifically that the moves available to each player are determined by rolling a pair of ordinary six-sided dice. There are many different variations of this form of dice chess. One of them is described here.
Hexagonal chess refers to a group of chess variants played on boards composed of hexagon . The best known is Gliński's variant, played on a symmetric 91-cell hexagonal board.
Legan chess is a chess variant invented by L. Legan in 1913. It differs from standard chess by the starting position as well as by pawn movements.
Chess with different armies is a chess variant invented by Ralph Betza in 1979. Two sides use different sets of fairy pieces. There are several armies of equal strength to choose from, including the standard FIDE army. In all armies, kings and pawns are the same as in FIDE chess, but the four other pieces are different.
Minichess is a family of chess variants played with regular chess pieces and standard rules, but on a smaller board. The motivation for these variants is to make the game simpler and shorter than the standard chess. The first chess-like game implemented on a computer was a 6×6 chess variant Los Alamos chess. The low memory capacity of the early days computer required reduced board size and smaller number of pieces to make the game implementable on a computer.
Millennium 3D chess is a three-dimensional chess variant created by William L. D'Agostino in 2001 which employs three vertically stacked 8×8 boards, with each player controlling a standard set of chess pieces. The inventor describes his objective as "extending the traditional chess game into a multilevel environment without distorting the basic game."
Cubic chess is a chess variant invented by Vladimír Pribylinec beginning with an early version in 1977. The game substitutes cubes for the chess pieces, where four of the faces of each cube display a different chess piece, the two other faces are blank and are orientated to the players. This provides an efficient means to change a piece's type. Kings and queens have unique cubes containing only their symbol, effectively behaving as normal.
Wildebeest chess is a chess variant created by R. Wayne Schmittberger in 1987. The Wildebeest board is 11×10 squares. Besides the standard chess pieces, each side has two camels and one "wildebeest" - a piece which may move as either a camel or a knight.
Triangular chess is a chess variant for two players invented by George R. Dekle Sr. in 1986. The game is played on a hexagon-shaped gameboard comprising 96 triangular cells. Each player commands a full set of chess pieces in addition to three extra pawns and a unicorn.
Masonic chess is a chess variant invented by George R. Dekle Sr. in 1983. The game is played on a modified chessboard whereby even-numbered are indented to the right—resembling masonry brickwork. The moves of the pieces are adapted to the new geometry; in other respects the game is the same as chess.
Chesquerque is a chess variant invented by George R. Dekle Sr. in 1986. The game is played on a board equaling four Alquerque boards combined, and like Alquerque, pieces move along marked lines (9×9) to the points of intersection. All the standard chess pieces are present, plus one additional pawn and one archbishop fairy piece per side. The pieces move in ways specially adapted to the Alquerque-gridded board.
Tri-chess is the name of a chess variant for three players invented by George R. Dekle Sr. in 1986. The game is played on a board comprising 150 triangular cells. The standard chess pieces are present, minus the queens, and plus the chancellor and cardinal compound fairy pieces per side.
Cross chess is a chess variant invented by George R. Dekle Sr. in 1982. The game is played on a board comprising 61 cross-shaped cells, with players each having an extra rook, knight, and pawn in addition to the standard number of chess pieces. Pieces move in the context of a gameboard with hexagonal cells, but Cross chess has its own definition of and .
Quatrochess is a chess variant for four players invented by George R. Dekle Sr. in 1986. The board comprises 14×14 squares minus the four central squares. Each player controls a standard set of sixteen chess pieces, and additionally nine fairy pieces. The game can be played in partnership or all-versus-all.
Chess on a really big board is a large chess variant invented by Ralph Betza around 1996. It is played on a 16×16 chessboard with 16 pieces and 16 pawns per player. Since such a board can be constructed by pushing together four standard 8×8 boards, Betza also gave this variant the alternative names of four-board chess or chess on four boards.
Star Trek Tri-D