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This page is written by the game's inventor, Bob Greenwade.

Desert Dust

Though the traditions of Chess among our variants come from ancient traditions in many countries, the pieces that my fellow creators and I have invented in the past century or so seem to get their flavor -- at least, in name -- from the Middle East more than anywhere else. Noticing this, I wondered if a game could be built using only such pieces.


The initial setup puts the Malik and Sultana centered at the back, the Sultana on her own color, flanked by Emirs, Caliphs, Hakims, Sultans, and Grand Viziers.

On the second row, two Snakes are at the center, followed by Astrologers, Ravens, Mamluks, Satraps and Ayatollahs.

The third row has two Jackals at the center, then Shieks, Sorcerers, Wizards, Spears, and Camels.

The center row has four Scorpions in the center, with a group of four Pawns on each side.

The Interactive Diagram below shows the general appearance, and can also be used to examine move diagrams and even play against the computer:

files=12 ranks=12 promoZone=1 promoChoice=ShWSrAsClHSt*C*Rv*Sn*J graphicsDir=/graphics.dir/alfaeriePNG/ squareSize=50 firstRank=1 graphicsType=png lightShade=#EDC9AF darkShade=#C19A6B rimColor=#247291 coordColor=#FFFFFF useMarkers=1 holdingsType=1 maxPromote=3 pawn:P:ifmnDfmWfceF:pawn:a4,b4,c4,d4,i4,j4,k4,l4,,a9,b9,c9,d9,i9,j9,k9,l9 scorpion:Ps:ifmnDfmWfceFmfsN:scorpion:e4,f4,g4,h4,,e9,f9,g9,h9 spear:Sp:mfRcfB:nspearman:b3,k3,,b10,k10 sultana:Q:QC:queen:f1,,f12 camel:C:C:camel:a3,l3,,a10,l10 raven:Rv:RNN:bird:d2,i2,,d11,i11 snake:Sn:vWvyafsW:snake:f2,g2,,f11,g11 sultan:Sl:FNC:camelferz:b1,k1,,b12,k12 grand vizier:V:KAC:camelguard:a1,l1,,a12,l12 wizard:W:FC:moon:c3,j3,,c10,j10 sorcerer:Sr:WZ:mage:d3,i3,,d10,i10 astrologer:As:CmpafmpafsyafW:guard:e2,h2,,e11,h11 jackal:J:GZ:minister:f3,g3,,f10,g10 sheik:Sh:FCDD:falcon:e3,h3,,e10,h10 mamluk:O:WC:lance:c2,j2,,c11,j11 ayatollah:Ay:mF2cW2:bishopinv:a2,l2,,a11,l11 caliph:Cl:BC:camelbishop:d1,i1,,d12,i12 hakim:H:RC:camelrook:c1,j1,,c12,j12 emir:E:RKC:kingrook:e1,h1,,e12,h12 satrap:St:mW2cF2:rookinv:b2,k2,,b11,k11 melek:K:KisO4:king:g1,,g12


The pieces on the board, their moves, and their icons (well, the White versions anyway) on the Interactive Diagram are as follows:

Malik: Malik is Arabic for "king," and the Malik moves exactly like the King.

The physical piece I use for the Arabic King is identical to the usual King, with the cross replaced with the star-and-crescent symbol of Islam.

Sultana: The Sultana combines the moves of the Queen and the Camel.

The Caliph and Hakim (Canvasser) needed a counterpart with a Queen's move, so I created this piece. Like "queen," the word "sultana" is applied equally well to a female monarch as to a ruler's consort.

Emir: The Emir slides orthogonally like a Rook, moves to any adjacent space, or leaps like a Camel.

This is borrowed from Robert Shimmin's game Scheherazade. An emir is the equivalent of a prince, as a secular monarch or his sons.

Caliph: The Caliph slides diagonally like a Bishop, or leaps like a Camel.

This piece has been around for a while. A caliph is the highest-ranking official in a system of Muslim-state theocratic politics.

Hakim: The Hakim slides orthogonally like a Rook, or leaps like a Camel.

This is just a renamed version of the Canvasser. The word in Arabic (accent on the first syllable) translates as "governor" or "ruler," and is used as a contemporary title for (among other things) judges.

Sultan: The Sultan moves to any diagonal space, or leaps like a Knight or Camel.

Also borrowed from Scheherazade. In the Muslim-state system, the Sultan is the next rank down from Caliph.

Grand Vizier: The Grand Vizier can moves to any adjacent space, or leaps like a Camel or two spaces diagonally.

Also borrowed from Scheherazade. A vizier is a political advisor or minister in Near East countries, making a Grand Vizier the approximate equivalent of a Prime Minister.

Snake: The Snake moves one space forward or backward, then may continue outward like a Bishop.

The Snake originated as the Snaketongue, in Ralph Betza's Bent Riders article. (It still goes by that name in many games; I'm one of those people who prefer to name it after an animal rather than one of its organs.)

Astrologer: The Astrologer leaps like a Camel, and then may continue outward like a Bishop.

This piece is borrowed from Daniel Zacharias's game Tiger Chess. The pre-Islamic Middle East was filled with astrologers, most notably Egypt and Persia.

Raven: The Raven slides orthogonally like a Rook, or leaps outward like a Nightrider.

This piece has been around for a while, though mostly as a chess-problem piece.

Mamluk: The Mamluk moves one space orthogonally, or leaps like a Camel.

Borrowed from Apothecary Chess - Classic by Aurelian Florea (who spells it "mameluk"). Mamluks were slave-mercenaries in service to Arab and Ottoman empires.

Satrap: The Satrap moves one space or leaps two spaces orthogonally, but cannot capture with that move. It can also move one space or leap two spaces diagonally, but only to capture.

Taken from one of Charles Gilman's extensive Man & Beast articles on this site. A satrap was a provincial governor in the ancient Persial empire.

Ayatollah: The Ayatollah moves one space or leaps two spaces diagonally, but cannot capture with that move. It can also move one space or leap two spaces orthogonally, but only to capture.

I created this piece (originally under the name Qayin) as a counterpart to the Satrap. An Ayatollah is a high-ranking cleric in Shi'a Islam.

Jackal: The Jackal leaps three spaces diagonally, or like a Zebra.

I originally created this as a counterpart to the Leon, or Spanish Lion, which leaps three spaces orthogonally or like a Camel. Jackals are, of course, quite well-connected to Egypt and surrounding areas; Anubis is merely the best-known god associated with them.

Shiek: The Sheik moves to any adjacent diagonal space, leaps like a Camel, or leaps to every other orthogonal space (like a Dabbabarider).

This is another piece borrowed from Scheherazade. The title of shiek, which literally meals "elder" (as a noun), also translates as "lord" or "master," and most often refers to a tribal chief or royal family member.

Sorcerer: The Sorcerer moves one space orthogonally, or leaps like a Zebra.

This piece first appeared in Charles Daniel's game Sorcerer Chess. Sorcerers have a traditional existence in the lore many countries, including those in the Middle East.

Wizard: The Wizard moves one space diagonally, or leaps like a Camel.

This piece first appeared in Daniel MacDonald's game Omega Chess. As with Sorcerers, Wizards have a traditional existence in the lore of many countries.

Spear: The Arabian Spear moves directly forward like a Rook, but cannot capture that way; or diagonally forward like a Bishop, but only to capture. (It cannot move sideways or backward.)

More often called the Arabic Spear (though "Arabian Spear" we be more grammatical), the earliest place where I can find this piece is in Hans Bodlander's game Pick-the-Team Chess.

Camel: The Camel leaps one space by three spaces.

This is an old historical piece. And of course the camel is so iconic to the Middle East that most of the compounds in this variant are compounds of the Camel.

Pawn: The Pawn moves like a Pawn in standard Chess, including a two-step opening move and en passant capture.

This piece is the only one in the game that is unchanged from standard Chess.

Scorpion: The Scorpion moves like a standard Pawn, with one added move: a non-capturing leap one step forward and two steps to the left or right.

This Scorpion is borrowed from Scorpion Chess by M. Winther. Scorpions are so common in Western literature involving the Middle East that they're practically a cliché, even though they're found nearly anywhere south of the 50th parallel.


Other than what's stated here, rules are as in standard Chess.


Pawns, Scorpions, and Spears that reach the back row may promote to the player's choice of (in no particular order) Sheik, Caliph, Hakim, Satrap, Wizard, Sorcerer, or Astrologer; or to any animal pieces (Camel, Jackal, Raven, or Snake) that the opponent has captured.


Disclaimer: I'm no expert in Islam, the Middle East, or even Chess for that matter. As in any game, there's a lot of creative license here, mixing imagery of both Muslim and pre-Islamic periods, as well as the natural world. Please, don't take it too seriously.

This 'user submitted' page is a collaboration between the posting user and the Chess Variant Pages. Registered contributors to the Chess Variant Pages have the ability to post their own works, subject to review and editing by the Chess Variant Pages Editorial Staff.

By Bob Greenwade.

Last revised by Bob Greenwade.

Web page created: 2023-08-21. Web page last updated: 2023-10-22