Hand & Brain Chess


Chess variants where one plays with a partner, such as bughouse, tandem chess, or hand & brain, are amusing. In contrast to a standard chess game, where you control each of your moves, your partner may make a move for your team that you didn’t expect. Likewise, parts-of-speech games entertain because of unexpected results.

According to a Scientific American article on humor, one reason that people laugh is “at the incongruity between expectations and reality.” In the chess variant “hand & brain,” the moves a team makes are not necessarily what either partner on the team expects!

Hand & Brain Rules

Hand and Brain Chess

At 40 seconds into this video, Grandmaster Eric Hansen explains the rules for hand & brain. The player designated as the “brain” lists a chessman that the brain’s partner, known as the “hand,” must move. In this particular hand & brain game, the time control was game in three minutes. When the hand & brain side had 10 or fewer seconds left, the hand would make all moves without the brain’s input. For the first game, Hansen was the hand and intern Jaron Saturnino was the brain.

As the game progressed, Hansen did not always anticipate which chessman Saturnino would pick. For example, at 5:41 Saturnino says “queen.” Hansen thinks for a few seconds, brow furrowed, then moves the queen while stating, “not too many moves of the queen.”

At 6:16, this position arose. Hansen and Saturnino are playing as Black. Although material is equal, Black has the initiative. It is Black to move. The diagram shows Black at the bottom so that you can adopt Black’s perspective.

chess diagram

As Hansen said, “Most people here would take the free bishop.” What piece did Saturnino call out, and what move did Hansen play with that piece? After making the move, Hansen exclaimed, “Holy Smokes, Jaron!”

Hansen taught Saturnino during hand & brain. For example, giving a hint about which piece Saturnino should name next, Hansen said, at 3:54 in the video, “Now that all your pieces are developed, you want to maximize them.”

The answer to the above puzzle is to move the rook. After Saturnino called out “rook,” Hansen played 1…Rh3+ 2. Kg1 [2. gxh3 Qh2#] Qe3+ 3. Rf2 Qxf2#.

Parts-of-Speech Game

Just as Hansen taught Saturnino chess principles during the entertaining hand & brain chess variant, the following game is a fun way to review the parts of speech. To play, pick a word corresponding to each part of speech below. For example, for an adjective you could write “happy.”

Fill in the words:


WIM Alexey Root, PhD

Alexey Root is a Woman International Master and the 1989 U.S. Women's chess champion. Her peak US Chess rating was 2260. She has a PhD in education from UCLA. You can find her books on chess on Amazon.com.

One Response

  1. robert
    robert at

    Hi I am Robert M. Briere I live in bow,NH I want to say I really love chess it is one of the best games I’ve ever played