Primary Chess


Primary Chess is a chess variant suitable for primary schools and offers a more accessible version of chess both for children and teachers. It takes the game back to 600AD to the origins of chess in India. The rules are simpler than orthodox chess and eliminate those “modern” elements that many beginners find difficult to grasp. The approach to the game is educational. Knowledge of  chess theory regarding the openings and endgames is largely irrelevant.

To play Primary Chess, all players need to know are the basic moves and the values of the pieces. The objective of the game is to be the first player to capture the opponent’s king. This outcome may be regarded as falling below the level of logic and beauty of orthodox chess but is more accessible by the majority. The practical benefit is that, with king capture, the outcome of the game is quite clear. The teacher does not need to spend time determining whether the games have reached checkmate or not – the children can determine the results of their own games. There are no forced moves and so there is less need to invoke teacher intervention during the game.


Check and checkmate remain important concepts.

  • Check is when the king is under attack. The king is allowed to remain in check. Children are encouraged to politely announce “check” when they attack their opponent’s king. Eventually children will learn for themselves that they should look out for their king’s safety.
  • Checkmate describes the situation when the capture of the king on the next move is inevitable. Checkmate does not immediately end the game: the game continues. Whilst the game may end on the next move, it will only do so if the player having checkmate realises that they can capture the king.

The key difference from orthodox chess is that the king may be captured even without a precursory checkmate.  For example, a king may walk into check or may have been in check already.


There is no stalemate: where the only move is for a king to move into check, that move must be played. Stalemate becomes an instance of zugzwang i.e. a forced move that leads to a loss.


Agreed draws and resignations are prohibited, unless with the permission of the teacher.


Special moves are restricted:

  • the en passant rule does not apply
  • castling is discarded (unless players agree)
  • pawn promotion is limited to queens only


The release-move rule replaces the touch-move rule. A child may touch and move a piece and then return it to its original square without the obligation to move it elsewhere.  However, once a finger is released from a moved piece, the move is complete. This reduces the incidence of touch-move disputes that the teacher is required to resolve.  Children are encouraged to keep their finger on a piece until they have decided where to play it.


There are only two ways to draw automatically:

  • repeated check which is defined as giving five checks in a row. If one player does not agree on the check count, summon the teacher and demonstrate five checks again. Note that the checks do not have to be inescapable.
  • insufficient material to capture the king. Defined as having only a king and a minor piece (i.e. bishop or knight) against a lone king. 


If a game must be stopped before the end, e.g. end of the lesson, the winner is declared to be the player who is leading by at least 3 piece-value points (some events use 5 points); otherwise the game is declared a draw.


The scoring system encourages the playing of games:

1 point = Playing a game 

2 points = Playing a game and getting a draw

3 points = Playing a game and winning


‘Midline invasion’ is an optional rule which stipulates that a player can win if they get their king over the midline. i.e. into the opponent’s half of the board. This provides an exciting alternative method of winning.  Endgames are virtually eliminated which shortens the length of a game.