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.
|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.
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).
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||Mashaikhi tabiya|
|Sayyal tabiya||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.
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.
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.
Game Page Help
The Action Bar
The Action Bar is the most important part of the game screen, this is where you interact with the game by entering moves, conditional moves, comments, draw offers, resignations, and much more (if you are not viewing one of your own games, the Action Bar is not shown). The Action Bar is in four parts, from left to right:
- The Move Input Box: where your move or conditional move is shown; it is possible to type into this box, but not recommended, you can enter your move by dragging and dropping the pieces on the board.
- The Action Selection Dropdown: this is where you select the action you want to do, for example, move, enter a comment, accept a draw offer, claim a draw, etc. Only the actions which are relevant to the current game are shown.
- The Continue Button: this button sends your action back to our server; sometimes you might see a pop-up text box before the action is sent, this is so that you can write a message to your opponent. You can set your preferences so that this box is always shown to confirm you move (under the "Chess Board" tab "Confirm moves before committing), some people find this helpful as a "blunder check".
- The Next Game button: clicking the button will take you to the next game for which it is your move.
The Game Information Panel
Under the Action Bar, you should find the Game Information Panel. This gives you more information about the game; because there is too much information to see on one screen here, it is arranged into "tab"; you can move between the various screens by clicking the buttons, from left to right:
- Game Overview: this tab shows the full history of the game, including comments (you cannot read the comments from another player's game, unless the game is marked as "public"), leave taken, etc. You can click the moves to see the position on the chess board.
- Hide Comments: this tab shows the moves of the game only, without the distraction of the comments shown on the game overview tab.
- Material Balance: this tab shows the captured pieces in the game. If you are playing CrazyHouse chess, or a similar game, you can drag pieces from here to the board to make a "drop".
- Tags: You can "tag" games, this makes it easier to come back to games, you can find the games you have tagged from the game database screen.
- Variant Information: this tab is available for some chess variants, it will show you a description of the variant.
- Opening Information: In standard chess games, this tab will show you information about the chess opening you have been playing, taken from the Game Explorer.
- Analysis Board: Opening this tab will overlay an "analysis board" on the main chess board; you can move the pieces around freely on this board to try out various ideas in the game.
- Engine Analysis: This tab allows you to analyse the game using a chess engine; because the use of engines is not allowed on SchemingMind, this tab is not available for ongoing games.
- Help: If you are reading this, you have already figured out what the help button does!
The Chess Board
The chess board shows the current position in your game; if it is your move, or if you can enter a conditional move, you can drag and drop the pieces on the chess board.
If you wish to castle, simply drag your king over the rook on the side you wish to castle on. When you promote a pawn, you will see a pop-up prompting you to select the promoted piece.
We have a number of different designs for chess boards and pieces, you can select the one you prefer from your personal preferences.
Under the chess board is a navigation toolbar (this toolbar looks slightly different if you are looking at the analysis board).
From left to right:
- Download Game: This button will allow you to download the game in PGN format.
- Move to the Start: This button will show the start position of the game.
- Previous Move: This button will move position shown on the board back one move.
- Next Move: This button will show the next position on the board.
- Last Move: This button will show the current position on the board.
- Flip: This button will show the board from the other player's perspective (by default you see games from White's perspective unless you are Black; you can select an option to always show the board from White's perspective in your personal preferences).
- Animate: If you are not looking at the last move in the game, this button will animate the game from the shown position to the last move.
- Stop Animation: This button will stop the animation.
- Analysis Board: This button will show the Analysis Board (see above).
View this article in the Knowledge Base.