Way of the Knight

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Way of the Knight (WOTN) is a chess variant invented by Ralph Betza before 1994.[1] It was an attempt to create a chess variant which had attributes of both standard chess and role-playing games.[1]


Way of the Knight has the same starting position as standard chess. However, pieces may have experience levels and alignments, shown in this table.[1] Some pieces' names have been slightly changed here to conform to Betza's later "funny notation" for fairy chess pieces.

Experience Level Alignment Knight Alignment Neutral Alignment Bishop
1 Pawn
2 WfbD DA
3 Knight Bishop
5 Rook
7 NB
8 RN Queen
10 RNN
11 King

Experience levels and alignments[edit]

A piece can increase its experience level ("improve") by one by:

  1. Capturing a piece whose experience level is at least half that of the capturing piece:
  2. Moving to the rank equal to the piece's experience level plus 5 (only applies to pieces of level 3 and below).[1]

When a piece of experience level 1, 5, or 7 improves, it must choose the Knight Alignment or Bishop Alignment. A piece on level 2 or 3 which improves must continue with the alignment it has.[1]


The standard chess pieces move as they do in standard chess. The movements of the other pieces are given in the diagrams below.[1]

Check and checkmate[edit]

The rules of standard chess apply to a player with only one king.[1] Check does not apply to a player with more than one king, even when all of his kings are under attack. In such cases, some of his kings may be captured by the opponent without causing him to lose, as long as he has at least one king left in the end. A player with one king who has one or more ravens may improve a raven to a king instead of dealing with the check if that improvement would be legal.[1]


A variation of the game, also invented by Ralph Betza, adds more pieces as possible promotions. In addition, a piece which improves from the knight alignment or bishop alignment may now either continue with the alignment it has or change to the neutral alignment. A piece which improves from the neutral alignment may choose any alignment.[1]

Experience Level Alignment Knight Alignment Neutral Alignment Bishop
1 Pawn
2 WfbD DA
3 Knight Bishop
5 NWfbD Rook FAD
8 RN Queen
10 RNN
11 King

The movements of the additional pieces are as follows:[1]

Handicap system[edit]

Sam Trenholme suggested a system of progressive odds for Way of the Knight. In a long series of games of Way of the Knight between two players, each time a player wins a game, he gains a handicap point (or the other player loses a handicap point if they already have one). Each handicap point allows a player to improve any one of his own pieces in the starting position before the game starts. If a player has multiple handicap points, he may repeatedly improve the same piece or improve different pieces. A rook that has been improved may still be castled with.[1]


The rule that a piece capturing another piece considerably less experienced than itself does not improve was taken in an adapted form from role-playing games. Betza planned the promotion sequence such that a minor piece would not improve by capturing a pawn and anything worth an archbishop or more would not improve by capturing a minor piece. Exchanging pieces is discouraged by the promotion-by-capture rule, as the player who starts a sequence of captures and recaptures is the one who loses from the exchange.[1]

Sample games[edit]

a8 black rook
c8 black bishop
d8 black king
h8 black rook
a7 black pawn
b7 black pawn
d7 black pawn
f7 white queen
g7 black pawn
h7 black pawn
c6 black pawn
e5 black unicorn
c4 white bishop
e3 white king
a2 white pawn
c2 white pawn
g2 white pawn
h2 white pawn
e1 white rook
f1 white rook
Position after 17.Rhf1!!

Improvement is notated with a slash after the move and then the notation of the piece the original piece was improved to.[1]

Sample game constructed by Betza[edit]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 Nxd4?! An attempt to avoid 3...exd4/AD 4.Nxd4/NW Nxd4/NW 5.Qxd4/BNN, where White has benefited from the exchange; however, 3...d6 and 3...d5!? are probably better moves. 4.Nxd4/NW exd4/WfbD 5.Qxd4 Qf6!? 6.e5 Qb6 7.Be3 7.Qxb6/BNN? axb6/AD, improving an enemy piece, would be inadvisable. 7...Ne7! Threatening ...Nf5 and (in some lines) ...Qxb2. If instead 7...d6?, then 8.Nc3! dxe5/any 9.Bb5+ and the piece on e5 cannot capture the White queen. 8.Bc4? 8.Qc3 is probably forced. 8...Nf5 9.Qd5 Nxe3/NW! 9...Qe6 10.Nc3 leaves White ahead in development. 10.Qxf7+ Kd8 11.fxe3/DA Qxb2 11...Qxe3+ should equalise. 12.(DA)c3 Bb4 13.Ke2 Bxc3/BD 14.Nxc3/NW Qxc3/BNN+ 15.Ke3 Necessary to avoid checks. 15...(BNN)xe5? This move is too greedy and opens lines for White's pieces. The unicorn has immense forking power, but usage of it is thwarted by the fact that White's pieces are all defending each other and are all of less value than the unicorn. Furthermore, White's queen cannot be captured without White's recapturing piece being improved, allowing White to continue the attack with his queen. 16.Rae1 c6?! 17.Rhf1!! (see diagram) 17...d6 If 17...d5, then White wins by 18.Qf8+ Rxf8/any 19.Rxf8/FLD+ Ke8 20.(FLD)xe5/NB dxc4/any 21.(NB)xg7+. 18.Kd2 (BNN)g6 Defending e7. 19.Qxg7! The immediate 19.Bd3 can be met by 19...(BNN)g5+; this move prevents this defense and threatens 20.Bd3 on the next move. 19...Bd7 19...Bf5 fails to 20.Rxf5! 20.Bd3 (BNN)h4+ 21.Kc1 Kc7 22.Re7 Rhd8 23.Rff7 1-0[1]

Sample game using Trenholme's handicap system[edit]

A handicap point has here been used to improve White's e-pawn to a WfbD.[2]

1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.f3? Nc6 4.(WfbD)e4? Not a good move: the player who initiates an exchange in Way of the Knight is almost always the one who ends up worse from it. 4...dxe4/WfbD 5.fxe4/WfbD Nxe4/NW 6.g3 (NW)xd4 7.Ne2?? (NW)f3#[2]