Check out Alice Chess, our featured variant for June, 2024.

Ninth-Century Indian Chess

By John Ayer



Al-‛Adlī, writing in the ninth century, remarks, “It is universally acknowledged that three things were produced from India, in which no other country anticipated it, and the like of which existed nowhere else: the book Kalīla wa Dimna, the nine ciphers with which one can count to infinity, and chess.”  He contrasts the game as played in India in his day with the rules known to the Persians and Arabs (Shatranj).  

The source is H. J. R. Murray's History of Chess, 57.


The board is eight squares by eight, all apparently alike.


The first and most obvious difference is in the set-up.  The King stands on one of the two central files, staring at the enemy King, and the Firzan stands on the other central file, staring at the enemy Firzan.  Two Rooks stand on the c and f files, two Horses stand on the b and g files, and two Elephants stand on the corner squares, on the a and h files. Pawns fill the second rank.


Pawns move one square forward, and capture one square diagonally forward.  The Rooks have  the normal Rook's move, charging along any open rank or file, and the Horses have the normal Knight's leap.  The Elephants, however, do not have the Alfil's leap; they leap to the second square along the rank or file: the move of the Dabbabah.  The King moves one square in any direction, and the Firzan one square diagonally; there is no special leap for the King. 


Checkmate is a win.  Stalemate, while legal, is a loss for the player inflicting it.  Isolation of the King is a victory, even if the winning player's King could be isolated on the next move.  This rule also obtained in the Hejaz (the area around the holy cities of Mecca and Medina), but the rest of the Moslem world at that time held that if the opponent could bare the other King on the next move, the game was drawn.  ‘Al-‛Adlī was surprised to find what his contemporaries called "the Medinese Victory" the rule in India.  There is no mention of perpetual check.