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Shatranj. The widely played Arabian predecessor of modern chess. (8x8, Cells: 64) (Recognized!)[All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Anonymous wrote on 2001-06-09 UTCGood ★★★★
I thought pawns are not allowed to make a double-step on their first move. isn't it?

Arash Salarian wrote on 2002-07-25 UTCGood ★★★★
Just wanted to comment that Persia is not an arabic country. This way, repeatedly calling Shatranj an arabic game in these pages is not a an acceptable argument. Everyone admits that Shatranj comes from Persia so why you don't call it a Persian game?

Iyad wrote on 2002-07-26 UTCGood ★★★★
I would like to note -as a chess player- in the arab countries such as
Jordan and Syria, they play chess the orthodox way with one difference, in
your first move you have the option to move any two pawns one square only,
or one pawn for two squares. but it is becoming old fasioned.

And one more note, it's a fact that chess came to the Islamic world from
Persia. But at that time there was no Persia, instead there was one
Undivided Islamic country, And from there chess spread to the world by
trade. So chess(Shatranj)is not Arabic or Persian, but Islamic. For that
was the only thing incommen among the residents of that huge country.

But furthermore, Persia's origin is from Sumeria, so why not call it
Sumrian chess? or New Cave-man Chess?? or...

Arash Salarian wrote on 2002-08-19 UTC
Shatranj apeared in Persia in Sasanid era, long before Islam. So saying that Shatranj is a fruit of the islamic culture is not ture. Even if shatraj where invented in islamic era in Persia, you could not call it 'arabic' since Persians are not arab, now being muslim or not... And remember that the history of the Persia goes back to 3000 years ago and Islam only apeared 1400 years ago. So, more than a 1600 years there was a Persian country that was not either Muslim (it preceded Islam) and was never Arabic. It's wrong to credit shatranj to Arabs just 'cause that Persians became muslim in the course of the history years after it's invention...

Anonymous wrote on 2002-08-19 UTC
Just wanted to say, as far as I know the 1st reference to shatranj in
literature is in the Persian romantic KARNAMAK, 600 A.D. while the birth
of Muhammad in Mecca is 570 A.D. 
As KARNAMAK only 'reported' shatranj but not invented it, we can
reasonably believe that shatranj is older than this and hence, it's simple
to see that origin of Shatranj in Persia at least would be somewhere in
Sasanid era (226-637 A.D.) 

Another thing to mention is that Sumers preceded Babylonians not the
Achaemenids (who preceded Sasanids). It's true that Cyrus the great
(600-529 B.C.) conquered Lydia and Babylon; so the Persian Achaemenid
king, Cyrus, only defeated Babylons and this way we can see Sumers and
Persians are from different roots (actually they had totally diffrent

David Howe wrote on 2002-08-19 UTC
<i>I have changed the indexing information to reference the game as Persian instead of Arabic. Thanks for the correction.</i>

Nuno Cruz wrote on 2002-10-13 UTC
The rules of chess in medieval europe (king's leap, 'passar bataglia', free castling, etc) could also have a page of their, own explaining it's evolution...

Jason wrote on 2002-10-25 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
Clear review of early form of chess.

kingofthering wrote on 2002-12-09 UTCPoor ★
shatranj was originally invented by ancient hindus from india. by hindu
laws that time gambling was forbid so they invented a new version for
this. like 'chaturang' and 'chaupad'.kindly correct the information on

modayz wrote on 2002-12-10 UTC
There is a good (imho) article on the origins of chess at which refutes the claim that chess was 
invented in India, as claimed by 'Murry'

Ben Good wrote on 2002-12-10 UTC
i feel i must respond to the previous comment. i've read the article that he links to, and i am not impressed with it. i no longer trust anything written by sam sloan. he talks at great length and sounds impressive but says hardly anything to prove his case. he trashes murray constantly (yes, everybody knows now murray made some mistakes, but this is true of virtually all researchers of the time in all subjects, no matter how good they were). he claims that everybody since murray has just accepted his work, which is not true - eales consulted original sources and was mostly impressed with murray's work. besides, showing that murray made mistakes does not prove sloan right. virtually everybody i've talked to agrees that sloan and li do not have enough evidence to make their case. i would recommend approaching this article with a big does of skepticism.

LCC wrote on 2002-12-11 UTC
It's amazing how every rethorical wepon, even Nazism-bashing, managed to be
squeezed into that article.

With all due respect to Mr. Sloan, who is certainly more knowledgeable in
many things than me, his views aren't exactly as waterproof as they

'The people there are primarily desert dwellers. They are great merchants
and traders. Their caravans can easily penetrate all the way from Arabia
to China. However, to say that these people, the vast majority of whom
even today cannot read and write, invented a game like chess, is
ridiculous, and I am sure that my many friends in Pakistan will agree with
me.' This part, specifically, made me shake my head in disbelief.
People who travel in the desert know very well that a lot of the time must
be spent resting, with little else to do. Saying people with arithmetic
gifts (from being merchants) and navigational skills can't invent even
pre-chaturanga is underrating the power of boredom :-). They had go
boards, of course, since China was so important economically... but go is
a complicated, unpractical game and the desert isn't exactly the most
comfortable place. So they get the 9x9 boards and start trying to think up
some new, faster game. Not as far-fetched as he tries to make it sound.

To me it looks rather likely that since the chinese were used to go,
placing the pieces on the crossings rather than on the squares was a
natural adaptation. The opposite, (almost) everyone else changing the game
to play on squares, has no logic explanation.

And elephants aren't exactly the most common animals in China, just as
much as horses aren't seen in India in great numbers, but he dismisses the
elephant issue, while at the same time considering the horse-issue

Then there's the cultural aspect. He claims that Chinese play lots of
chess, while Indians don't, as if Hollywood should be in Paris since the
French invented cinema. The Indian culture, if one can truly consider it
just one, is perhaps the richest, most complicated and alien to the
westerner. But gaming isn't a main concern for them, and has never been -
many other forms of entertainment are more successful. And claiming that
the Chinese are better mathematicians than the Indians is absolutely

I am not saying I am convinced that it was created in India, not in China,
and I don't exactly care much and don't believe it can ever be known for
certain - there will always be someone to claim chess was played in
Atlantis in 5000 B.C. (and hopefully another to point and laugh at that).

But still, I liked the background music of the article.

John Lawson wrote on 2002-12-11 UTC
LCC wrote:
'But still, I liked the background music of the article.'
FYI, it's the third movement of Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata'.

LCC wrote on 2002-12-11 UTC
Oh, thanks!

Jianying Ji wrote on 2002-12-23 UTC
It is quite amazing to me that the rook remained so consistant over the
years. It is the only piece that is in all the historic variants, from 
shatranji to shogi. So if one really want to trace the history of chess,
the rook probably is a important part of that.

Mike wrote on 2003-04-13 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
Great website, very interesting and well informed. I'm particularly
interested in the many variants of chess played in India, Central Asia,
and the Middle East. Unfortunately (in my opinion), many of the historical
variations of chess seem to be dying out, replaced by the one same
'standard' game.. to me this is a great shame and a loss to everyone who
enjoys world culture and the game of chess.

Just to add my piece to the discussion about the origins of chess, it
seems to me extremely reasonable to assume that chess was originally
invented in ancient India. There have been very many civilisations that
have risen and fallen in the sub-continent... much of which is far from
desert! In the past it is likely many of the current desert regions were
much more fertile, and since when have people living in the desert not
been able to create great civilisations?!! (are we forgetting that
virtually all the ancient civilisations of the world were located in
desert regions with great rivers, just like Northern India/Pakistan?). 

Any arguments about Indian/Pakistani people not being the 'type' to
invent games are obviously complete bollox. I have travelled widely in
both countries and have found the local people (particularly the old men)
very fond of board games including a number of chess variations. The truth
is that we will never know exactly where chess was first played, and to be
honest I suspect a very ancient game was played millenia ago that
eventually evolved into what we recognise as chess at a relatively recent
date, say the 5th or 6th Century AD. Where this occurred is open to
speculation, but I would say Northern India is an extremely likely spot,
that the first known record came from Persia immediately prior to the Arab
conquest would fit well with that hypothesis as there was a great deal of
trade between the two regions. There can be little doubt that the spread
of Islam also carried with it the game of chess to many distant regions,
including perhaps Europe. 

Remains of boardgames, some of which have a passing resemblance to
chess/draughts/go, have been found in Ancient Egyptian tombs, Ancient
Chinese tombs, burial mounds in central Asia, Africa, Crete and Europe,
and indeed tombs in India. Boardgames are probably nearly as old as man,
and although I don't believe in 'Atlantis' it is quite easy for me to
believe simple chesslike games were played by early man, with stones for
pieces and a board marked in the dust with a stick, why wouldn't they be?
For certain he was as intelligent as any of us (probably more so because
he had to live by his wits), had the same likes and dislikes as we do, and
spare time to relax after a good days hunting. Couldn't the first version
of 'chess' have been a game revolving around a group of hunters and
prey, or a skirmish between two clans? It is only in very recent times
that we have set down the rules of the one 'standard' game of chess in
tablets of stone and hence prevented the multitude of individual
variations which must have been very common in former times.

Austin Lockwood wrote on 2004-06-19 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
We have just introduced Shantranj as a playable variant on - this is a fascinating game!

David Paulowich wrote on 2004-08-01 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
Every chess variant can raise complicated rules questions. Here are some for Shatranj.

First Position. White: King e5, Knight e1 Black: King e3, Rook a1 MOVES 1. Nc2 check, Kd3 2. Nxa1, Kc3 3. Ke4, Kb2 4. Kd3, Kxa1 is a simple 'two bare Kings draw' in FIDE chess. I wonder if centuries ago there were Shatranj tournament rules concerning bare King draws that require more than one move.

Second Position. White: King c1, Knight e1 Black: King a1, Pawn a2, Rook e2

MOVES 1. Nc2 check, Rxc2 check 2. Kxc2 stalemate(?) Applying the Bare King rule exactly as stated, White lost the game before he could capture the Rook and win by stalemate. This seems unfair. But if the rules did allow White to play his second move, should a stalemate by a bare King count as a win or only a draw?

Rook Hudson wrote on 2004-11-09 UTCGood ★★★★
I used to play Shatranj a lot when I was a teenager with a friend of mine
and also with my father.  We all enjoyed it.  It has its own unique feel.

Some modern chess players who have tried it have told me they didn't
it.  That is their right but I have gathered that often their dislike is
due to conservatism: they simply feel uncomfortable trying new things. 
Some also make the mistake of using modern chess as the yardstick and in
so doing see Shatranj's slower pieces as thus being weaker and so less
enjoyable (less power).  They miss the point, I think.  A slower game is
NOT an inferior game just a different game.  Draughts (checkers) is
another game with slow pieces (and in some varieties the Kings are also
slow) but millions enjoy it nonetheless.

When I first played Shatranj I realised that I had to divest myself of
much that I held to be true in modern chess: pawns, for example, are much
more powerful than in the modern game, yet paradoxically promotion is
important.  This tended to make me use the pawns more in the game and not
worry so much about preserving them in order to promote them to Queens. 
The play of the Shatranj Queen and Bishop are also correspondingly
diferent.  The Bishop is useful mainly as an annoyance, a covering force
against rook attacks, and, in conjunction with two friendly pawns in a
chain formation, as a barrier and fortress.  Thus a pawn on e3, another
d4 and a bishop on c5 mutually support each other and can be difficult
to break up without the use of rival pawns.  This arrangement is good in
the middle game when enemy pawns have advanced forward and have moved to
where such a formation can no longer be threatened.  As for the Queen,
limited power could either be used defensively to shelter the King
Rook checks, as H.J.R.Murray noted the European players were prone to do,
or used aggressively by moving it forward, often in conjunction with the
King's Bishop, to assault the enmy lines, as the Arab masters used to
 After a Bishop sacrifice taking out a few enemy pawns, the Queen, alone
in conjunction with say a Knight, can gain entry into the ranks of the
enemy and prove a real threat.  The reason: because enemy Bishops and the
enemy Queen cannot usually attack it (unless the enemy Queen is a
pawn on the same set of 32 squares, and the enemy player is often forced
use a Rook or Knight, or bring over his/her King thus exposing the King
attack.  Thus the Queen ties up enemy forces much more powerful.

Likewise with the changed power of the Queens and Bishops the Rooks and
Knights come into their power.  Not having to fear Bishops, or Queens
sweeping down the board at them, Rooks are the most powerful pieces, and
once a Rook can break into the enemy ranks can usually cause havoc,
especially if both Rooks can get in.  Knights also find themselves more
influential, not having to fear being swapped off by Bishops so much, and
can really threaten the enemy with forks and checks.  The net result is
often an interesting middle of the board clash.

Where the game disappointed some people (and led to the changes made to
bring in the modern game) is the length of time it takes to play.  I've
had many games that went over a hundred moves, easily.  Plus the end game
is less decisive without Rooks, and as a result can be a long drawn out
affair.  The rules of Shatranj allow for a win by Bare King.  This is OK
but no doubt left some players less than satisfied as cornering the King
is supposed to be the prime object of attention, so I can understand why
it frustrated some people, but I still like the game.  Strategy, tactics
and feel are really different.  If one is a little jaded with modern
it can make an interesting alternative for a while as a break.

Andreas Kaufmann wrote on 2005-02-14 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
Which piece is stronger, General or Elephant? Is it worth to exchange General or Elephant for two pawns? Are there any writings from 1000 years ago about piece values in Shatranj :-) ?

David Paulowich wrote on 2005-02-16 UTC
Andreas: Elephant=1, General=2, Knight=4, Rook=6 is my (uneducated) guess for middlegame values. Never forget that the Elephant visits only a pitiful eight(8) squares on the board. But I am comparing these with Pawns that vary in value from 0.8 (a- and h-files) to 1.6 (d- and e-files). The ancient Arab chess authors were less inclined to use an average Pawn value, which is around 1.2 here. <p>'Thoughts on Chess with Different Pawns' is a recent Ralph Betza web page, where he has a lot to say about Shatranj piece values. For example: al-Adli thought a Knight was worth five(5) times as much as a Rook's Pawn, which is consistent with the values I gave above. See: <p>

David Paulowich wrote on 2005-02-20 UTC <p>gives P=7, E=8, G=12, N=21, R=35 after multiplying Betza's 'standard values' by 4. Compared to my comment three days ago, the Elephant and General now add up to almost the same value as a Knight. P=7 is an average pawn value - central pawns are worth much than a-file and h-file pawns.

David Paulowich wrote on 2005-03-08 UTC

Using Zillions, I played out this sample game, which ends with the 4 remaining Black Pawns blockaded by 4 White pieces, while a Black King, Chariot, Knight, Counselor, and Elephant are locked in behind the Pawns. Even if this was a variant allowing Kings to move into check and be captured, Black would still have no legal moves in the final position:

    a   b   c   d   e   f   g   h
 8 | k |:n:| e |:::|   |:::|   |:::| 8
 7 |:r:| f |:::| p |:::|   |:::|   | 7
 6 | p |:::| p |:N:| p |:::|   |:::| 6
 5 |:R:|   |:E:|   |:R:|   |:::|   | 5
 4 |   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:P:| 4
 3 |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   | 3
 2 |   |:P:| P |:P:| P |:P:| P |:::| 2
 1 |:::|   |:::| K |:F:| E |:N:|   | 1
    a   b   c   d   e   f   g   h

1. Pawn h2 - h3
1. Pawn a7 - a6
2. Pawn h3 - h4
2. Knight b8 - c6
3. Chariot h1 - h3
3. Elephant c8 - e6
4. Chariot h3 - f3
4. King d8 - c8
5. Chariot f3 x f7
5. King c8 - b8
6. Chariot f7 x g7
6. Elephant e6 - c8
7. Chariot g7 x h7
7. Chariot a8 - a7
8. Chariot h7 x h8
8. King b8 - a8
9. Pawn a2 - a3
9. Pawn b7 - b6
10. Pawn a3 - a4
10. Knight c6 - b8
11. Pawn a4 - a5
11. Pawn b6 x a5
12. Chariot a1 x a5
12. Counselor e8 - f7
13. Elephant c1 - e3
13. Counselor f7 - e6
14. Elephant e3 - c5
14. Counselor e6 - d5
15. Chariot h8 x g8
15. Counselor d5 - c6
16. Chariot g8 - g5
16. Pawn e7 - e6
17. Chariot g5 - e5
17. Counselor c6 - b7
18. Knight b1 - c3
18. Pawn c7 - c6
19. Knight c3 - e4
19. Elephant f8 - d6
20. Knight e4 x d6

David Paulowich wrote on 2005-03-30 UTC
(loss-condition (White Black) (pieces-remaining 1) ) ; This 'bare king rule' creates problems for Zillions in Shatranj and other chess games. Here is an example with 5 pieces set up on an empty board: <p>VariantName=Shatranj (White Shah c1) (White Rukh b2) (White Baidaq h2) (Black Shah a1) (Black Rukh b8) <p>1. Shah c1 - c2 [a deliberate blunder in order to test Zillions] <p>1. Rukh b8 - c8 <p>2. Shah c2 - b3 <p>2. Rukh c8 - b8 <p>3. Shah b3 - c2 <p>3. Rukh b8 - c8 <p>Apparently Zillions was worried about the sequence 1... Rukh x Rukh check 2. King x Rukh 'bare king victory'. I have not seen Zillions actually play an illegal move, but this example does show Zillions failing to win a game because it reacts to the apparent threat of a future illegal move. Also every Shatranj related ZRF that I have tested will record a 'bare king victory' without giving a chance to make a final move resulting in a 'two bare kings draw'.

Gary Gifford wrote on 2005-10-30 UTCGood ★★★★
I like the 'Bare King' concept and am a little surpprised that it did not continue down with the evolution of today's orthodox chess. Also, though Shatranj seems not to be very popular today, I wonder if the rule variant cited by Pritchard, i.e., 'A stalemated King may be transposed with one of its other pieces, as long as this does not result in check' is being used in the game courier? But I imagine it is not. Pritchard's variant is mentioned on the ChessVariants page. I imagine we are not employing it in our game courier games. If it is being used, however, I would like to know as it could completely change the endgame in certain situations by changing a forced stalemate to a win.

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