Old McDonald has shatranj Eia-Eia-Oh

'Leisure' (30 days + 3 days/move, max 60 days)
This game is being played under Shatranj rules. Click the 'info' tab for more information.
Clock started on 1/24/2010
1. f3 e6 2. f4 f6 3. e3 d6 4. c3 d5 5. d3 c6 6. Nf3 b6 7. b3 a6 8. c4 g6 9. Nc3 Nd7 10. a3 h6 11. Ra2 dxc4 12. bxc4 e5 13. fxe5 fxe5 14. Ne4 Qe7 15. d4 exd4 16. exd4 Ngf6 17. Re2 Kd8 18. Bd3 Bd6 19. h3 Re8 20. Kd2 Bf4+ 21. Kc3 Nxe4+ 22. Rxe4 g5 23. Rhe1 Nf6 24. Re6 Bxe6 25. Rxe6 Kc7 26. Ne5 c5 27. d5 Ne4+ 28. Kc2 Qf6 29. Rc6+ Kb7 30. Nd7 Rac8 31. Rxb6+ Kc7 32. Bf5 Ra8 33. Rc6+ Kd8 34. Nxf6 Nxf6 35. Rxf6 Ke7 36. Rc6 Rec8 37. Re6+ Kf7 38. Be3 Re8 39. Rxe8 Rxe8 40. Bxc5 Rc8 41. Kc3 Rxc5 42. Qe2 Kf6 43. Bd3 Ke5 44. Qf3 Bd6 45. a4 a5 46. Bb5 Rc8 47. Kd3 Bb4 48. Qg4 Rf8 49. Qf3 Rf4 50. Bd7 Rd4+ 51. Kc3 Rd1 52. Bb5 Re1 53. Qg4 Re3+ 54. Bd3 Kd6 55. Kd4 Re1 56. c5+ Kc7 57. Kc4 Ra1 58. Kb5 Bd6 59. Kxa5 Rd1 60. cxd6+ Kxd6 61. Bb5 Kc5 62. Ka6 Rxd5 63. Ka5 Rd4 64. Qf3 Rd8 65. Ka6 Ra8+ 66. Kb7 Rxa4 67. Bd7 h5 68. Bf5 Rf4 69. Bd3 g4 70. hxg4 hxg4 71. Qxg4 Rxg4 72. Bf5 Rxg2 73. Bd7 Rg7 74. Kc7 Rh7 75. Kc8 Kc6 76. Kd8 Rxd7+
Black win

Shatranj is a traditional game that first appeared in Persia around the 7th century AD and remained immensely popular throughout the Middle East for the next nine centuries. Shatranj is said to have supported professional players, produced several books and inspired its own body of chess problems or mansubat. And it is likely to be the predecessor of modern chess.


1. Pieces and Movement

Shatranj can be played with a traditional chess set: the start position is similar to that of standard chess, with Alfils replacing Bishops and Firzans replacing Queens.


Shatranj initial position (rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR)

Shatranj initial position

Shah (king) moves as in standard chess, except there is no castling
Rukh (chariot, rook) moves as in standard chess
Faras (horse, knight) moves as in standard chess
Baidaq (soldier, pawn) moves as in standard chess, except there is no initial two-step and it always promotes to Firzan
Firzan (vizier, queen) moves to the first diagonal square
Alfil (elephant, bishop) leaps to the second diagonal square, can jump over some other piece (like knight).

The game was designed to represent an ancient battlefield. The Baidaq is a soldier, the Firzan is a trusted military advisor (this metaphor is also behind the promotion rule); the Rukh (chariot), Faras (horse), and Fil (elephant) represent advanced ancient military units.


2. Rules

The rules of Shatranj are similar to Standard Chess, with the following exceptions:

  • Stalemate counts as a win (if you have no legal move, you lose),
  • Bare King counts as a win, provided that your King cannot be bared on the very next move,
  • Two bare Kings count as a draw,
  • The piece set is changed (alfils and firzans instead of queens and bishops, see above),
  • There is no initial two-step pawn move (and of course no en-passant), no castling, and pawns arriving at the last rank always promote to Firzans

There are check and checkmate, and they work just as they do in standard chess.


3. Game hints

Here are some basic suggestions about game play.


3.1. Pieces strength

The strongest piece is of course the rukh (rook). If, following standard chess, we keep the values for the rooks (5 units) and knights (3 units), then the firzan would be worth at most 2 units, the alfil about 1, and pawns between 0.5 and 1 (the central pawns being more valuable than those on the side). The low value of the pawns is caused by the fact that they can only promote to firzans. The low value of the alfils is because each alfil can access only 1/8 of the board.

The tenth-century master As-Suli set out the values thus: rukh: 5, knight: 3¹⁄₃, firzan: 1²⁄₃, alfil: 1¹⁄₄, central pawn: 1¹⁄₄, bishop and knight pawn: between ⁵⁄₆ and 1, rook pawn: ⁵⁄₈.

Each alfil can access only 8 squares on the board, and those squares do not overlap. So it is impossible to (directly) exchange alfil for alfil. One can also consider avoiding squares reachable by one's opponent's alfils while deciding where to place important pieces and pawns. At the same time, one's own alfils can be useful to defend important pawns (this is why some openings leave pawns on d3 and e3).


3.2. Openings

The game is generally slower than standard chess. In particular, it takes time before the true battle begins: during opening one can develop almost uninterrupted by the opponent for some time. So, the exact sequence of opening moves is not very important; the resulting structure matters. Below are example structures (tabiyas) analysed in traditional literature:


Mujannah tabiya (8/8/8/8/2P2P2/1PNPPNP1/P6P/1RBQKBR1)

Mujannah tabiya


Mashaikhi tabiya (8/8/8/8/3PP3/1PPQ1P1P/P2NN1P1/R1B1KB1R)

Mashaikhi tabiya


Sayyal tabiya (8/8/8/8/6P1/PPPPPP2/4NR1P/1NBQKBR1)

Sayyal tabiya


Muwashshah tabiya (8/8/8/5P2/3P2P1/PPPQPN2/3N3P/1RB1KBR1)

Muwashshah tabiya

Black can pick the same, or other structure, as white. So, there can be Double Mujannah game (when both players picked Mujannah setup), or Mujannah-Mashaikhi game.

The typical aim of the opening and the early middlegame is to gain space, connect the rooks (second rank is often used for the task), favourably open some file(s), create outposts for the knights, and, if possible, invade the opponent's camp with a rook (or both), supported by knights, and sometimes alfils. Such an attack need not necessarily lead to mate, but frequently lets one win significant material.


3.3. Middlegame

Contrary to standard chess, one can often find oneself unable to defend some piece or square in spite of having tempi or even a few available for the task. Except the rooks, all pieces are short range, and it takes time to move them to the other area of the board. Therefore it is important to create a solid structure, where pieces and pawns defend one another. For the same reason, local advantages (having more pieces in some area of the board) are likely to stay for a few moves.

Typical game strategy is oriented rather towards winning material, than creating mate threats (although there are exceptions). Sacrifices happen rarely (if ever). The main tactical (strategical?) theme is to outnumber the opposing pieces in some area of the board to win material there.


3.4. Endgame

Pawn promotion is of lesser value than in standard chess as the firzan is only slightly stronger than the pawn. It make sense to promote pawns, but this is only one of many possible manoeuvres.

The most important endgame concept is constriction (taking away your opponent's moves) in order to achieve a stalemate or bare king victory.

The stronger side should be careful while exchanging, especially with rook exchanges. There is a risk of a situation similar to opposite-bishops chess ending - extra firzan (or a few) does not help if the weaker side dominates on - say - light squares. For the same reason sometimes it is better to keep an unpromoted pawn, if it keeps an eye on an important square - once promoted, it will never change its square colour.


4. Example games

Links to more instructive Shatranj games are welcome

Some example games:

Nice mate in the centre of the board

Rooks invasion - after typical opening black uses open file to invade white position with rooks

Alfils at work - instructive maneouvering game where white particularly effectively uses his alfils (note battle for open file on moves 26 and 37, fork on move 29 and final sacrifice at move 60), also pretty example of constriction strategy in the final part of the game.

Minor piece king hunt - knights and alfil cooperating to construct the mating net.


5. Additional info

This Article on Shatranj was published in the SchemingMind Journal. Read it, you will find a lot of valuable information there.

AncientChess.com is selling chess sets being replicas of traditional shatranj pieces (Nishapur chessmen). See their chess history for some pretty photos, and this page for game rules in their redaction.


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