If you have been watching a lot of online chess featuring some of the most famous chess streamers then you might have encountered this term, that is hand and brain chess.
When I first heard about this I don’t have a clue what it even means (and I have been playing for years!) so I did the research to discuss this in detail with you today.
Here is what I’ve learned after doing an intensive research:
Hand and brain is a chess variant intended to be played by pairs where one player is a hand and the other is the brain. The brain calls out a piece or a pawn (for example, “bishop”) as long as it is a legal move, and the hand should choose which bishop to move and where.
I think this is an interesting mode of play especially since it can be played by two people as teammates, so if you have a friend you may want to apply this.
But of course, you can’t participate in this if you don’t know about the details in the first place, so I’m going to explain it to you.
What role does the hand have in hand and brain chess?
First let’s talk about the role of the hand.
The hand in a hand and brain chess is the one who has the role of choosing which piece or pawn to move depending on what the brain has decided to call out, the hand should only move pieces that are called by the brain even if the only possible moves are bad moves.
Conversely, the brain cannot interfere with the decision-making of the hand since it is beyond the rule of which any hand and brain chess needs to follow.
The hand is the only one designated to decide which pawns or piece to move based on the order given by the brain, the brain can only call out the options.
This means that ultimately, the hand will have more power over the result of the game than the brain, they are the ones to move the actual pieces after all.
Even if the brain has a particular piece to move in mind they can only give the option, and if the hand decides to play the wrong move it will still end in an unfavorable decision.
This is why strong players usually take the hand role instead of the brain, as they can still make some pretty fair moves that the brain has given even if the options are not that good.
A strong player as the brain after all can give all the best options out there but would still be futile if the hand does not deliver.
The hand can only play moves called out by the brain
I think this is what makes this mode of playing interesting, which is the hand has to make full use of the limited options given by the brain.
During hand and brain chess the hand cannot choose a move that is different from what the brain has called out, even if he or she knew that any available moves within the option are bad moves.
This means that if the brain gives a piece for a pawn command that is supposedly bad in the given position the hand will have no choice but to play them.
Even if the available moves given by the brain completely blunders the position, the hands should not be able to choose otherwise and make something out of it.
The brain should not be able to hint the moves
Of course whenever a brain calls out a particular piece they will already have a move that they want to play in mind, so there’s a tendency that they may hint at this move but this is not how it should be.
The brain of course should not be able to hint at the move that they prefer and allow only the hand to figure it out themselves, otherwise, it’s not that different from a spectator providing moves for the player.
That is the point of hand and brain chess in the first place, to be able to overcome the lack of communication and be able to perform well anyway. If the brain is able to communicate directly it will defeat the purpose and make this mode of play obsolete.
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What role does the brain have in hand and brain chess?
That is about the hand part, what about the brain?
The brain in a hand and brain chess is the one who has the role of choosing which piece or pawn the hand player has to choose from, the brain can call out any piece or pawn as long as they are a legal move.
It has the opposite role as the hand, the brain will have the right to call out which move is treated as an option by the hand, this can range from the pieces, pawns, until to the king.
There is no restriction whatsoever that the brain can only call out a particular piece or pawn at a specific time, it is a free-for-all where the brain can choose from a variety of options.
Contrary to the hand the role of the brain is still important, but not as important as the player who is actually making the moves (hand).
Unless the options are really bad and can even appear as intentional, the hand can usually neutralize the bad call from the brain by making decent moves (so its effects are not as severe).
The brain can only choose legal moves
The brain of course is unable to suggest a move and that cannot be legally possible within the bounds of the game, all moves said by the brain should be legal.
If the brain does say something that cannot possibly be played legally, another move should be expressed in place.
The rules of chess will not be broken just because the brain makes a mistake, everything should stay in place where the brain has to choose another move.
Now if this is an informal match then it is easy, there will be no penalties whatsoever since players are competing just for fun.
If the hand and brain format is a formal competition then there might be penalties, it can be an addition to the opponent’s time, but really it just depends on the organizers.
Special moves in hand and brain chess
There are special rules and chess such as castling and en passant, of course, hand and brain should also incorporate this.
If the brain wants the hand to be able to perform a castle then they should suggest moving the king, the hand can then choose to move the king through a castle.
Castling is treated like a king move, so a hand who is supposed to move the pieces can only castle if the brain suggests a king move.
Another are the special rules regarding the pawns, en passant and pawn promotion are considered a pawn move, so if the brain wants these rules to be played then they should suggest a pawn move
The hand can only do these special rules if the brain suggests a pawn move, there are no special call-outs that can be used to only allow a pawn promotion, for example, it should only be said as moving a pawn.
Choosing a piece during promotions
When a pawn managed to land on the last rank (opponent’s rank) of the board then they are able to be converted into another piece, the problem is who would get to decide that in hand and brain chess?
During promotions, the one who is assigned to be the hand will have the right to choose which piece the pawn has to be promoted, although the brain has to give the command to move a pawn (in order for promotion to be possible in the first place).
Just like what I have discussed above, the brain has to make the command a pawn in order for the hand to be able to make a pawn promotion (since a pawn push is required for a promotion to happen).
The hand will also have the responsibility to choose which piece the pawn is to be promoted.
The brain will not make any calls on which this has to be promoted from the pawn, the hand will have the full discretion to do that as long as the pawn has been pushed to the last rank (where promotion is possible).
Hand and brain mode in time troubles
As you can imagine hand and brain chess can get pretty messy whenever there isn’t a lot of time left, if the brain has to tell which move to play every time when it is their turn then the hand will play more slowly.
This is why during time scrambles (where there isn’t a lot of time left) the hand will choose the move without any recommendation from the brain since they have to move fast. It’s almost as if the entire rules for hand and brain gets thrown out.
This is inevitable when you think about it, in time troubles where pre-moves are dominant (if it is online) or much more in over the board (where it is harder to press the clock) there really isn’t that much time to think, moves have to be played without much thought.
In this case the role of the brain will get dismissed in order to accommodate something much more important to winning the game, which is moving more quickly.
Is hand and brain chess an entertainment game?
If you are following a lot of professional games you would notice that hand and brain are not that present in formal competitions.
Hand and brain rules are much more common in online chess streaming since it has entertainment value for the audience, though entire competitions around it are quite rare in competitive settings compared to regular chess.
Don’t get me wrong, hand and brain chess are played by a lot of strong players but as you can notice they are mostly online, elite competitions around this are quite uncommon.
Hand and Brain chess is usually an entertainment-only chess variant played by a pair that is rare to be seen in formal competitions (although some competitions do exist).
The purpose really was just to make the game spicier than it already is, but a competition around this variant is not that popular.
If one of the players is a very strong grandmaster, for example, it is quite entertaining to have the brain as a lower-rated player (and vice-versa) to see what happens.
That is exactly the case with this game when Magnus Carlsen himself acts as the hand while one of his peers act as the brain:
As you can see it is a much more lively game than if Magnus has played alone, we want to see how things would unfold if there is a restriction in place.
Hand and brain can allow two players to team up in a game of competition
I have played a lot of massive multiplayer games online and eventually, you will get to a point where you want to play with friends and peers rather than against them which is hard to do in chess.
You can only play with your friends as an opponent for the most part.
One of the best things about Hand and Brain chess is it takes away the individuality of the game, if you have a partner that you want to team up with, this is the way to do it.
And as you can see it is very exciting, after all, you don’t know if this entire experience will be a challenge or will it be a breeze (since you will be teaming up).
This is one of the few ways to team up with someone close to you as their ally rather than an opponent, it could even be a good learning experience.
Someone who is not that good could be mentored by someone who is that good (in the game) and they can learn together, I think it is awesome.
Do you now know what hand and brain chess is?
I think this is a very interesting model of play that could be applied by anyone, especially if you are only really playing on the internet. You don’t have to drag someone to an unknown place just for a chess match in order to participate in this, anyone would do.
In fact even someone who doesn’t have a lot of background with chess can do just fine, and you can easily convince them to play some games on the internet. It’s a good opportunity to introduce someone new to the game or just play with someone you can trust.
I will definitely see if I can do this sometime in the future and I hope you can do it too, sleep well and play chess.