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.
1. e3
Clock started on 7/7/2010
1... c6 2. d3 c5 3. c3 e6 4. f3 Nc6 5. c4 f6 6. g3 g6 7. Nc3 f5 8. h3 d6 9. f4 Nf6 10. b3 b6 11. Nf3 Rg8 12. Rg1 h6 13. a3 Rb8 14. Rb1 Rb7 15. b4 Rf7 16. Rb2 g5 17. Nh2 gxf4 18. exf4 Nh5 19. Rbg2 cxb4 20. axb4 Nxb4 21. d4 Rc7 22. c5 bxc5 23. dxc5 Rxc5 24. Ne2 Ba6 25. Be3 Rc7 26. Nd4 Bc4 27. Nhf3 Rcg7 28. Kf2 Nf6 29. Nd2 d5 30. Qc2 Kd7 31. Bd3 Ne4+ 32. Kf3 Nd6 33. Bb1 Ba6 34. Qd3 Bc8 35. N2b3 Na6 36. Na5 Qc7 37. Nab3 Qb6 38. Rc1 Nb8 39. Na1 a6 40. Nac2 Qa5 41. Na1 Qb4 42. Nab3 Nb7 43. Qe2 Bd6 44. Bd3 Bxf4 45. Kxf4 Nd6 46. Bxf5+ exf5 47. Nd2 Re8 48. Qf3 a5 49. Bg1 Na6 50. Be3 Be6 51. Nxf5 Rf7 52. g4 Bxg4 53. hxg4 Ref8 54. Ke5 Nxf5 55. gxf5 Rxf5+ 56. Kd4 Rf4+ 57. Kd3 Nc7 58. Rh2 R8f6 59. Rch1 Nb5 60. Qe2 Rd4+ 61. Kc2 Rc6+ 62. Kd1 Qc3 63. Qf3 Rxd2+ 64. Rxd2 Qxd2 65. Kxd2 Nd4 66. Qg4 Rg6 67. Qh5 Rf6 68. Kd3 Nc6 69. Rb1 Rf4 70. Rg1 Ne5+ 71. Ke2 Rh4 72. Ra1 Rh2+ 73. Kf1 Nc4
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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