Sunday, May 04, 2014

Episcopal Chess

I never was very good at chess partly because I was never patient enough to think through more than a few possible future moves, and partly because my best friend was a chess master who would deride my "unconventional moves" without explaining why he considered them to be risky. 

As far as the Church game of Episcopal Chess goes, I think I have it figured out. If you are ready to learn the game, the following is my explanation. 

Disclaimer: Real "Chess" is a game with rules that two opposing players agree to follow.

The Playing Field: Neutral and Non-neutral squares arranged in horizontal pews and vertical aisles. 
Players: (2 or more)
Goal(s): To tie up the opposing Archbishop by a "Final Court Order," or to pursue him with endless litigation into "Court-mate".

Pieces (per side):
  • Pewsitters (8): Placed one pew ahead of the other pieces. May advance and be seated only one pew at a time except on its first move when it can jump two pews. This is to be forgiven because they are considered to be "newcomer" pewsitters. The Pewsitters' front line position makes them especially vulnerable to being taken in by the other pieces, and their greater numbers makes them more suitable to be sacrificed for the end game. Pewsitters may take an opposing piece if that piece poses an immediate threat to their seat or position. Often the pewsitter obstructs the progressive goal of the stronger piece  behind it and must be either sacrificed or moved forward against its will.
  • Cathedrals (2): These must move in straight lines and may travel as far from the baseline as they desire. Cathedrals should have a Bishop in order to function properly. If its Bishop falls, the Cathedral and its contents are to be converted into a Pewsitter. 
  • Lawyers (2): Are permitted to jump around and thrust subpoenas deep into enemy territory. They can tie up vast numbers of Bishops, Cathedrals, and Pewsitters by the mere threat of their motions. 
  • Bishops (2): May move diagonally, forwards or backwards at will, unless otherwise commanded by the Queen. 
  • Archbishop (1): The most important but perhaps the weakest piece. Totally dependent on the other pieces for survival, the Archbishop can only move one tentative step at a time and must be careful not to step anywhere that might result in getting broadsided by a Bishop, hit with a subpoena from a Lawyer, or having a Cathedral fall on him. Pewsitters are generally not considered to pose a threat, but the Archbishop must have Queens to protect him lest he be cornered by even the lowliest of pieces.
  • Presiding Queen (1): This is the most powerful piece. She may move in any direction she fancies and is extremely threatening, striking down enemies at a distance with her long crozier and imposing fear at the mere sight of her spectacular miter. 

Special Rules:

Deposing: A Bishop may be "deposed" and converted into a Pewsitter if that Bishop fails to follow the Queen's rules.

En Pewssant: A progressive newcomer Pewsitter is permitted to knock over unwary, traditionally moving opposing Pewsitters by jumping two pews in its initial move which it is allowed to do only if it has willed all of its personal property to its Presiding Queen.

Cathedraling: At the behest of the Archbishop, a Cathedral can be relocated to a more strategic position and given to another Bishop (the Bishop may be chosen by the Queen from discarded Bishops that have been retired from the playing field).

Queening a Pewsitter: On rare occasions a Pewsitter may advance cleanly over all the pews and elect to change gender and become a Presiding Queen. Ordinarily, a powerful Presiding Queen would feel jealous of this upstart's move, but this being an inclusive game, she must hide her true feelings until the opposing Archbishop is placed into Court-mate after which time all rules are suspended as the victorious pieces fight over the wallets of the remaining Pewsitters and the walls of any surviving, crumbling Cathedrals.

Opening Moves: Past games have revealed several interesting opening moves which some have termed "Opening Gambles".

1) The Beers Gamble: This is an attempt to use your Lawyers to directly attack the opposing Bishop or Archbishop by filing lawsuits in order to confiscate Cathedrals and all the other pieces on the board in one all or nothing move.
2) The Schori Gamble: In this bold move, the Presiding Queen ignores the intervening pieces, and in violation of the rules, deposes an opposing Archbishop or Bishop. 
Defensive Strategies: Similarly, various defensive strategies have been used to counter these aggressive opening moves.

The San Joaquin Defense: In this maneuver, the lawyers are moved forward to protect the Cathedrals, Bishops, and Pewsitters. Unfortunately, the rules of Episcopal Chess may vary depending on where you are playing making this defense a poor choice in some locales.
The South Carolina Defense: This defensive strategy, often confused with an opening gamble,  involves permitting your opponent to set up their pieces on  a separate game board from which their Lawyers, Pewsitters,, Bishops, and Queens cannot mount an attack. This strategy also works only in specific locales.

Parental Warning: The game of Episcopal Chess is not appropriate for adults. If adults are caught by their Father playing this game, their game boards will be taken away from them and their game pieces will be cast into the darkness of the depths of the toy box.  

....where there shall be great weeping and gnashing of teeth.


  1. Priceless! And as one who flunked even the most elementary attempts at chess, I now understand better why the present Episcopal squabbles leave me variously frustrated, frightened, and grievous. And so I retreat to my deep forest Anchorhold, try to say my prayers according to the most ancient tradition, and remember that in the earliest centuries, other hermits and anchorites did likewise amidst the church squabbles of their own day. ... Perhaps we'd be better off (and more faithful to the Lord) if all the Bishops, Lawyers, and Queens did likewise. Nah...they'd bring the squabbles with them, and disrupt Holy Silence.