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This page is written by the game's inventor, Gary Gifford.

Shatranj Darwinian

Shatranj Darwinian, © December 2005 by Gary K. Gifford This game popped into my head a few days ago while I watched a movie which included Middle East scenery. It is logical to assume that the following three items fueled the creative process: (1) My recent Chess Variants Tournament game of Shatranj, (2) my Shatranj of Troy creation, and (3) my playing a “test game” of Joe Joyce’s Grand Shatranj. In addition to having a Shatranj character it employs the concept of evolution to pieces currently used in orthodox chess. Because of the evolution aspect, however, I did not restrict the evolving pieces to the “Arabic/western” path chess took, but allowed for the evolution of the Chinese Cannon (related to Rooks, War Engines, and Wazirs). I also allowed a Ferz to be retained, as we see the piece today restricted in the palace of the Xianqi (Chinese Chess) board. But you may ask, why allow for these Chinese pieces? What about Japanese pieces (Shogi)? I will answer those questions in the “Notes” section of this rules page.


The initial setup on the 9 x 9 board is indicated in the first diagram.


Each player starts with:
1st Row:  Wazir (2); Nymph-Horse (2); Ferz (4); King (1)
2nd Row: Wazir (2)
3rd Row: Pawns (9)


Object of the Game: Checkmate your opponent’s King. You can also win by forcing resignation and by “Bare King.” Bare King, which is present in Shatranj as one of the possible winning conditions, occurs when you have taken your opponent’s last piece or pawn, i.e., only his King remains. However, if his King could then take your last remaining piece or pawn (bearing your King) the game is Drawn. Detailed Movement and Promotions: 1)Wazirs – Move horizontal or vertical, 1 space. Upon reaching your third rank (or higher) you can promote a Wazir to a War Machine (Dabbaba). 2)War Machines – Evolve from Wazirs when a Wazir reaches the third rank (or higher). War Machines leap over one Square horizontal or Vertical to land on a space two squares away. They are like orthogonal Elephants. Upon reaching the 5th rank (or higher) you can promote a Wazir (or a War Machine) to either a Rook or a Cannon. However: You are limited to two promotions to Rooks; and two promotions to Cannons. It does not matter which two evolve into Rooks or Cannons. Note that War Machines can be on the same color squares. 3)Rooks – Evolve from a War Machines (which reach the 5th row or higher). Only 2 of 4 possible War Machines can promote to Rooks. 4)Cannons - Evolve from a War Machines (which reach the 5th row or higher). Only 2 of 4 possible War Machines can promote to Cannons. Cannons move as the ones seen in Chinese Chess. Thus, they move as do rooks, bu cannot capture as Rooks do. To capture they need a piece to leap over (friendly or enemy) and capture the first enemy piece beyond. 5) Nymph-Horse - These start out with the possibility to move one space forward or one space diagonal. Note that the diagonal is restricted to one (thus, at the beginning all Nymph-Horses are being directed toward the center of the board. The Nymph-Horse can promote to a Knight upon reaching your third rank or higher. If a Nymph-Horse reaches the last rank it must promote to a Knight at that time. The notes section discusses the origin of this piece. 6) Knights – Evolve from a Nymph-Horse. Move as in western chess. 7) Ferz – (see following figure). Move 1 space diagonally, any direction. Capture by displacement. Upon reaching your third rank (or higher) you can promote a Ferz to an Elephant. However: You are limited to two promotions to Elephants. The remaining two Ferzs must remain as Ferzs and cannot promote (even if the two Elephants were captured). It does not matter which two evolve into Elephants and which two remain as Ferz. The notes section contains more information regarding the Ferz concepts. In the above diagram we see a Ferz on the first rank. On its move it could go one diagonal forward (green dots). On its following move it could go to the third rank where it could promote (evolve) to an Elephant. The Elephant (which moves as in Shatranj) can promote to a Bishop when it reaches the fifth rank (or higher). 8) Elephant – Evolves from a Ferz when a Ferz reaches the third rank or higher. Moves as in Shatranj. That is, they leap 1 space diagonally in any direction. Capture by displacement. Can evolve into a Bishop upon reaching the 5th rank or higher. Elephants can be on the same color diagonal. 9) King – As in Western chess. There is no castling. A King cannot move into check. "Bare King" condition [found in Shatranj] applies. It occurs when you have taken your opponent’s last piece or pawn, i.e., only his King remains. This wins unless his King could then take your last remaining piece or pawn (bearing your King) the game is Drawn. 10) Pawns – Pawns are like western pawns, but without an initial double-space move option and therefore without pawn-enpassant possibility. Pawns, upon reaching your last rank, must promote to a Knight, Rook, Bishop, or Queen. 11) Queen – A Queen can appear on the board should a Pawn promote to one. You can have more than one Queen. The Queen represents the last of piece evolution in Western Chess as it is played today.


Shatranj Darwinian is based upon the idea of simple Shatranj pieces evolving into familiar pieces of today.  Evolutionary paths are obvious for Ferz and Wazir lines as illustrated earlier.  The Knight is a little different.  What was its predecessor?  The answer is that it is actually part Ferz and part Wazir, but not 100% both (which would give us a King).  Make 1/ 4 of a Wazir Movement, now make either of two Ferz movements in that same direction.  We have just completed a Knight move by this process.  And thus I created the simple Nymph-Horse to symbolize the pre-Horse, the concept from which our present day Knight evolved.

In regard to the question, “Why allow for these Chinese pieces?”  Chinese Chess is actually the most popular, the most widely played Chess variant world-wide.  It also evolved from Shatranj.  We see the Rooks, Horses, Elephants; we even see Ferz, but they are more difficult to recognize when restricted by the Xianqi palace.  And What about the Chinese King?  A Wazir no doubt.  And so, seeing Xianqi as part of the evolutionary aspect I had the Cannon evolve directly from the War Machine as the relationship of the two pieces is quite strong.

“What about Japanese pieces (Shogi)?”  In regard to Japanese Chess (Shogi) we see Rooks, Horses (limited movement), a King, etc.  So, it seems this Shatranj Darwinian game has some mild overlap.  The initial setup occupied-square aspect is identical.  “What about the Gold and Silvers?”  These can, of course, be created by various combinations of Wazir and Ferz vectors.  But, the intent of Shatranj Darwinian was not to create a game which could show piece evolution into the three widely accepted variants of today (Chess, Xianqi, and Shogi) but rather to include a piece evolution in general which would lead us to all Western Chess Pieces, but still show a bit of evolutionary split (thus the Cannons and the remaining two Ferz).

To complete the evolution (in relation to Western Chess of today), the Queen can  appear upon Pawn promotion.  She is a combination of a Rook and Bishop, which came from War Machines and Elephants, respectively; which in turn came from Wazir and Ferz, respectively, which came from rocks and the imagination of men from long ago.  Our brothers of antiquity, who, like us also enjoyed games.

Shatranj Darwinian, © December 2005 by Gary K. Gifford

As always, a special thanks to ChessVariants.  And a special thanks to Fergus Duniho who pointed out that piece movement clarifications should have been made for those unfamiliar with Shatranj -- I have therefore added information.

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 Gary K. Gifford.
Web page created: 2005-12-04. Web page last updated: 2005-12-04