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Tinker man patents six-way chess game

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- For several years, Mike Owen pondered the same question, something very few have probably considered. Could chess be a three or six-player game?

He thinks the answer is yes. He designed a workable gameboard that resembles a Chinese Checkers gameboard, visited with lawyers and applied for a patent. He's still waiting for an answer. In the meantime, the welder from the 76th Maintenance Squadron's Plant Services is in the process of beta testing the game.

"It's just like regular chess, the only difference is when you set the players up on the board, because the shape of the board is different and the shape of the playing spaces is different," said Mr. Owen. "It's a different strategic situation, so you have a different defensive posture to start off with."

Ignoring the shape of the board and its spaces, Mr. Owen said everything else is familiar. "The bishop moves through the corners and stays on its color, the knight moves very similarly except the space is not 90 degrees, but more like 15," Mr. Owen said. "But the actual game itself is identical."

Mr. Owen said he brainstormed the idea while hanging out with friends. There were of three of them, and because chess is traditionally a two-player game, somebody always sat out. Mr. Owen said he wasn't the strongest of the three players and was likely "odd-man out." If chess could allow for a third, fourth, fifth or sixth player, or teams, few would be left out of the action. Mr. Owen began researching, designing a board and working the logistics in 1979, two years before he began working at Tinker.

"It's one of those things, it's not full-time, no one's paying me to do this," Mr. Owen said. "It's only when I can find spare moments."

Mr. Owen said in the upcoming weeks, while he's waiting for the patent approval, he hopes to test the concept on young chess players, particularly junior high school students, who are unfamiliar with the idea.

"They come to it with a fresh set of eyes and tell me what they like and don't like about it," Mr. Owen said. "They don't have any preconceptions about it."

In the meantime, he'll wait and play his masterpiece, never tiring of it.

"It's like golf, maybe you play the same course over and over again, but it's a different game every time," Mr. Owen said. "There are a million variations."