Horde Chess

The art of war in horde chess- some simple strategies for beginners

Horde chess is a really cool variant that kind of resembles some kind of siege of a fortified keep like the Tower of London by peasants (The white horde), or perhaps representative of the regimented Romans (The black side) beating down various foes in England and Gaul despite being outnumbered.

Using Zwischenzug in horde chess

Some of the strategies of regular chess remain, such as the concept of Zwischenzug- introducing moves of initiative that your opponent must respond to as an interposing move or as a distraction, before the expected move. This concept can be utilized by both sides.

Zwischenzug as white

In the end game, White could be encroaching on the enemy king. Instead of immediately advancing forward to check the king, white could attack a piece on the other side of the board in order to threaten and destabilize the position from two fronts- stretching blacks defenses. Any time a powerful piece such as the queen is deflected in horde can greatly strengthen white’s attacking chances. Even a supporting move in the center at this point in the game can actually force black to respond to the risk of being overwhelmed.

Zwischenzug as black

Black may use Zwischenzug by lining up batteries on the files or diagonals. Let’s say black doubles rooks on the B file, and black must push a pawn forward to prevent a rook sacrifice and subsequently allow the second black rook to infiltrate. But, imagine this move, with the pawn army thinned out, may also open up scope for a black bishop to pinch some pawns and prevent future forward mobility, Sometimes, defending one weakness for white can actually open up a weakness elsewhere, especially as the pawns start to thin out. This is a mechanic that can be exploited by a skilled player with black.

Dominating space in horde chess

Mobilizing the defenders of the black king

White pushing their army forward, Black must ensure that their pieces also have forward mobility. Control of the flanks is possibly even more important than the center in horde chess. This is because pawns on the flanks have less defenders than those in the center by default. It seems like a reasonable strategy is for black to try to advance one or both wing pawns and control these wing files using either a pawn, or blockading with the rook. If black is able to blockade a wing pawn with the rook, it makes it very difficult for white to advance without the blockaded pawn losing a defender.

Blockading pawns with the rook in horde chess strategy
In this picture the flank pawns have been successfully blockaded with the black rooks.

Dominating Space with the horde

Similarly, white’s strategy could be to frustrate black by making it difficult for them to develop their knights or push pawns, which could result in pieces being blocked in, and being totally pinned down with very few options. Black should avoid this scenario by trading some central pawns to increase the scope of the bishops and ensure some piece mobility- while ideally also securing the flanks.

Strategic Sacrifices in horde chess

Make concessions where necessary in the hope of future gains

Often, a skilled white player will leave very little opportunity for the black side to get in behind or make favorable trades. In this case, it may become necessary to make some concessions of less valuable pieces such as the knights, in order to start to thin out the pawn army. An example of this would be training two pawns for a knight. Though this is not an ideal trade, the hope is if the white army can be thinned out fast enough, there will be time for the black queen or another piece to find a way into the white camp, especially as white must start to move forward and inevitably leave avenues for counter attack once threats are made on white’s positional integrity. Often a queen and a king are enough to hold out against many pawns if white is weak/has only formed pawn chains on one color complex.

With experience and confidence it’s also possible to make coordinated sacrifices that completely destroy white’s position.

Notice how black blockaded my flank pawns, traded off a lot of minor pieces for pawns, and then made a baity sacrifice with the bishop to enable the complete infiltration of my position!

Sometimes it can be a bit hard to visualize the future opportunity to undermine white after sacrifices, especially if white has played a more solid game than the example above. But, dominating one color complex using the queen and a bishop to prevent further forward mobility from white could be a strategy that can arise.

Rook and Queen Battery

Another common tactic from black is to form a rook and queen battery on the vulnerable flank pawns, and also target at least one of a bishop and a knight on the first pawns (in order to trade the less valuable pieces first and remove additional remaining pawns with the rook later). This can be an effective strategy to break through especially if there aren’t many remaining pawns on that file, or there are gaps or inadequate supporting pawns on the adjacent files.


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