What Is Crazyhouse Chess (And How to Play It)

Today, there are estimated to be thousands of chess variants, albeit most of them are severely trivial and forgettable. Many variants offer new fun ways to play chess, though. Among the great ones is Crazyhouse.

Crazyhouse chess is befitting of its name. It’s absolute chaos on the board, yet fun and exciting. What’s more is that it doesn’t differ much from standard chess, just a little more complex but a lot trickier.

This variant is gaining more and more traction due to its uniqueness. In this guide, we’ll be teaching you how to play it.

What Is Crazyhouse Chess?

Imagine a chess game where the players are necromancers who can bring back captured pieces from the dead as their own. That’s the madness called Crazyhouse chess.

In other words, once you capture your opponent’s pieces, you can put them back on the board and use them as your own.

In a way, Crazyhouse chess can be considered the child of standard chess and the Japanese chess-like game, Shogi, because it features the same rules called “drops.”

History of Crazyhouse Chess

The origin of Crazyhouse chess is murky, but researchers postulate that Crazyhouse chess has been played for around 200 years. The oldest variant that somewhat resembles Crazyhouse was recorded as early as 1821.

Another book titled Geschichte und Litteratur des Schachspiels published in 1874 mentions the variant “Doppelschachspiel,” which resembles Crazyhouse more closely.

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The book highlights that the rule of dropping captured pieces back to the board already occurs in Japan, alluding to Shogi.

How to Play Crazyhouse Chess

The same rules of standard chess apply to Crazyhouse chess. You get to use the same pieces and start with an orthodox position.

Unlike many variants that need specialized boards and are often only played online, Crazyhouse chess uses the standard 8×8 board.

So, Crazyhouse is just chess with necromancy. That said, there are specific rules that you have to remember when playing.

Rules of the Game

The extra complexity of this variant is because of the following added rules:

  • Capturing a piece reverses its color and adds it to your stockpile. You can think of these pieces as reinforcements.
  • Instead of moving your pieces on the board, you can use your tempo to drop one of the reinforcements. You can utilize drops to check or checkmate the king.
  • You can only drop reinforcements on empty squares. No drop-kicking pieces that are still in the game.
  • You can’t drop pawns to promotion squares; no dropping pawns on 1st and 8th rank.
  • If a pawn is dropped on 2nd rank by white or 7th rank by black, it can utilize its 2-square move, like an average pawn on its starting position.
  • Should a pawn get promoted and then captured, it enters the stockpile as a pawn—not as whatever it’s promoted to.

These fundamental changes exponentially increase the possible positions on the board. You could theoretically have up to four rooks, knights, and bishops.

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You could also have two queens and up to 16 pawns, given the chance.

Another aspect that’s affected by these extra rules is the relative value of the chess pieces. Other pieces’ relative value in Crazyhouse is decreased compared to a knight’s.

A knight in a normal game is considered tricky because of its unique movement. Despite this, two knights are still losing against one queen.

In Crazyhouse, knights are impossible to block once they get dropped on unguarded squares.

Queens, on the other hand, can be blocked by any piece. This attacking prowess is valued in Crazyhouse more.

Where to Play Crazyhouse Chess

Now that you know how to play Crazyhouse chess, where can you play it? Well, like standard chess, you can play it two ways, over the board and online.

Playing Over the Board

Since you only need a standard board, you can play over-the-board Crazyhouse anywhere.

When doing so, it’s best played with two sets of chess pieces each. This way, all the pieces you capture can be sourced from the other set.

Reversible pieces, though a bit more uncommon, can also be used. They look like checkers pieces, resembling a coin, with the same chess symbols on each side but in different colors.

Crazyhouse can be confusing when played with a single chess set. That’s because you can lose track of which pieces are whose while trading. There are even accounts of fights breaking out due to the confusion.

If you can’t avoid playing Crazyhouse with a single chess set, it’s best to record drops as @ when notating to prevent discrepancies.

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For example, if you dropped a pawn at b4, you would notate it as @b4, or if you drop a knight at c3, record it as k@c3.

Keep in mind that when playing over the board, you and your opponent must know the rules of the game to prevent illegal moves.

Crazyhouse has extra rules and this can mean extra confusion between parties.

Playing Online

Online chess is the best platform to play Crazyhouse. That’s because everything is being taken care of by the program. There’s a live counter of the captured pieces, there’s a timer that’s already integrated, notations are automatic, and you can’t make illegal moves.

Aside from automated regulation, another advantage of online chess is that you can easily find opponents.

Chess platforms, like lichess.org or Chess.com, support Crazyhouse chess with other chess variants.

To Sum It Up

Chess is a game with seemingly simple rules, yet a steep mastery curve. Crazyhouse, which has more rules than normal chess, escalates this along with the fun and excitement.

David Bronstein once said that chess is a battle of nerves. Crazyhouse embodies that entirely. Imagine the steadfastness you need to defend against three rooks, two bishops, and two queens in a time scramble. It’d take nerves of steel not to resign.

From summoning pieces back to aid you, to defending from swarms of attackers, to literal fighting over the board, Crazyhouse has proven its place to be one of the best variants of chess.