Sovereign Chess by Mark Bates: A Review by Dagne Ciuksyte

I’m a fan of all kind of chess variants. As soon as I heard about Sovereign Chess I wanted to try it. The colours in chess always appeal to me. Moreover, the idea of this variant is quite simple: you have two armies to battle with the option of having allies. (Unfortunately, I haven’t tried a 4-player version yet which is an option in this set).

Time to set up the Sovereign Chessboard the first time: 6 min 30sec.

A number of people setting it up: two (1 adult plus 8-year old).

At first, we felt lost with a bunch of colourful pieces. But then it got easy once I realised that all the pawns go on the second rank as in standard chess. My little one found that there were piece markings next to the numbers on the side of the board.

Advice: Devote a place on a table for Sovereign Chess Set and leave it there for next time. You will see the benefit of that as we spent only 30 seconds next time to adjust a few knocked off pieces.

Strategy when Playing a Sovereign Game

The right strategy to win more games:

The first Sovereign Chess game I played was a total confusion of what could be the best strategy to follow.

I tried: To march to the coloured squares to own as many neutral armies as possible.

Didn’t like it: The neutral army would be mine but they were there waiting for me to release it from behind the pawns. It all seemed too slow.

With practice I came up with some other ideas:

I tried: To put effort into owning the neutral armies closest to my opponent’s army so that I was there already to attack it.

Liked it: Time efficiency!

More practice allowed me to pay attention to the details:

I tried: Many pieces seemed far too slow at the start of the game so I started keeping an eye out for the queens as the fastest and most flexible.

Liked it: What’s more, I realised that you have to be quite mean with your allies. You own their army, use their Queens to attack your opponent’s main army, weaken it and go looking for other allies…

Even if you give a neutral army’s Queen away for a less valuable piece, it still does the job – weakens your opponent.

Development of Your Pieces

Overall, it seems that development per se loses its purpose as is too slow. The speed to achieve your goals (1. to get close to your opponent’s king, 2. to weaken your opponent’s main army) is more important. It would be interesting to try my strategies against another competitive chessplayer even though she/he would be following the same ideas!


1) Make sure you stick to the rules when playing little children! There’s always a sneaky 8-year old who insists it doesn’t matter if both coloured squares are occupied by the same player as surely that neutral army is theirs now, isn’t it?!

A few moves later I find myself in the position where I will never be able to take over that army at all as even if I capture one of my opponent’s pieces, the other one controls it from the other same colour square and there would be confusion of who controls it now!

2) Make sure you adjust to who you are playing against! Make it fun for children who don’t go for the result straight away…

I took over one of my daughter’s side and went for the other’s king without any delay… She said it was more fun to play the game without your opponent going for a finish.

Thoughts on the Instructions

1) In our busy lives simplicity is what we are looking for. I was told by my family member that the rule of being able to take over your opponent’s army after their first move is known from other games but I wonder why we need it at all. Maybe I simply don’t understand the purpose of it. As a long term chessplayer who’s used to playing (and losing) with White or Black I’m happy to be the second person to move!

2) The brown lines mentioned in the instructions confused us. I wonder if it was simple enough to mention the centre of the board (that’s what we concentrate on a lot in the classical chess) and to say that all the pawns move towards it.

3) I wonder if in one of my games we could try to abandon the rule of only 8-squares at the time…I wonder what it would be like to allow Queens, Rooks and Bishops to see the other side of the board.

Sovereign Chess is very good at teaching players to be patient. The board is wide and when you are used to playing classical chess you realise that some strategies won’t work here. Forget about a pawns’ storm or squeezing your opponent’s pieces. Your opponent will never run out of space!

The Conclusion from a Classical Chess Coach’s Point of View

I’m very happy with the set. I tell my students about it now and again and I see their eyes to light up with a new concept of what you can do once you mastered the classical chess!

Let’s be honest – the interest to chess, the practice with the chess pieces, playing various chess games is what will count as chess studying if you want your chess students to improve! In the past, I was a strict chess coach who lost a few students whom I was pushing to excel at chess without making their eyes light up! I was wrong as well as people who don’t want even to mention chess variants on a junior chess website just in case it upsets chess coaches who think it will defer their young chess students from classical chess!