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by Nuno Cruz


Samarcanda is based on Mideast Chess, a chess variant invented (and studied?) in California around the late 1960's. There are only two differences: the Cavaliers are replaced by Nobleman (Crooked Bishops) and the King has the ability to castle.

The Board and Pieces

The game is played on a checkered board with ten rows and ten columns.

Each player has in addition to a normal set of pieces, two Zebras, two Camels, two Castles, two Noblemen, and two extra Pawns.

Opening setup

The opening setup is as follows:

Samarcanda Setup White:
King f2; Queen e2; Nobleman d2, g2; Rook a2, j2; Bishop c2, h2; Knight b2, i2; Zebra a1, j1; Camel c1, h1; Castle e1, f1; Pawn a3, b3, c3, d3, e3, f3, g3, h3, i3, j3.

King f9; Queen e9; Nobleman d9, g9; Rook a9, j9; Bishop c9, h9; Knight b9, i9; Zebra a10, j10; Camel c10, h10; Castle e10, f10; Pawn a8, b8, c8, d8, e8, f8, g8, h8, i8, j8.

Movement of pieces

The King, Queen, Rooks, Bishops and Knights move as in the Orthodox Chess, but Pawns can promote (when they reach the last row) to any of the starting types of pieces other than Kings or Pawns. In castling the King moves three squares nearer the Rook and the Rook leaps to the far side of the King, with the usual restrictions applying.

The Castle (or Squirrel) moves as a Knight, or can jump to any square that is horizontally, vertically, or diagonally two squares away. So, a Castle on d4 can jump to b2, b3, b4, b5, b6, c2, c6, d2, d6, e2, e6, f2, f3, f4, f5, or f6.

The Camel has a kind of stretched Knight's leap: it jumps two squares straight and one diagonally. So, a Camel on a1 can jump to b4 or to d2.

The Zebra has another kind of stretched Knight's leap: it jumps one square straight and two diagonally, so for instance from a1 to c4 or to d3.

The Noblemen move like Crooked Bishops, which slide alternately on a pair of adjacent diagonal directions, such as nw-sw-nw-sw-. There are eight possible paths for a Nobleman to take (two for each Rook-wise direction), and it can reach half the squares on each path via two different routes.

Other Rules

Other rules are as in Orthodox Chess.


Ever since I encountered Mideast Chess I have loved the game. It has all my favorite pieces in play, with the exception of the Crooked Bishop. I removed the original Cavalier (over-powered in my opinion) and in its place introduced the famous ZigZag mover studied by Ralph Betza. I believe it is a good and fun game to play, with new pieces where the forking abilities of some of them call out for whole new strategies where caution is needed from the beginning!

Large Chess variants don't necessary mean Knight combined with Bishops and Rooks... ;-)

Computer Play

A Zillions of Games file for both of these games is available. You can download it here:

Average piece value according to Zillions (Pawn value = 1): Zebra 1.9 < Camel 2.1 < Knight 2.4 < Bishop 3 < Rook 4.3 < Castle 4.9 < Nobleman 5.3 < Queen 7.3.

Invented by Nuno Cruz, page by Peter Aronson
WWW page created: January 22nd, 2004.