My first encounter with the Sierra Chess game was some years ago when I travelled
by the region called La Sierra Madre Oriental, in Mexico. I arrived at a little
village in the heights of the mountainous zone in the middle of a cold day.
I was thirsty and dying for a drink. Fortunately the cantina was the only
place with the doors open, although it was quite gloomy. A mixture of cigarette
smoke floated in the weak light. There were few people, all separated in groups.
At one side three men were at a table staring at each other like statues with their
hats on front of them and the hands hidden, as if in a sort of prayer. In
another table, a fat, bored woman was listening to the news on a radio. In
a corner, a couple of old men, whose doings I couldn't see at first. And behind
the long and lonely bar, the bartender staring at me. I asked him for a tequila,
and after a couple of minutes we were talking the usual.
What brings you to this lonely place? he asked.
I told him that I was going to the colonial city of Guanajuato to meet my ex-wife.
He laughed briefly and rather sadly. He muttered the word silly and
started to clean glasses with a melancholy expression. Then he said that the
village was almost a ghost town and the people were leaving since the casino was
Much of the people that remain are those that you see here, and a silly prostitute
that sleeps too much. He signalled upstairs. Oh, and the silly preacher
that insists this place needs him, he said tediously. Since I'm
not very religious, I didn't care for this information and asked him for another
tequila. But he added in a naive tone, He is with the prostitute, of course.
It was in that rather queer moment when I turned and saw the wooden chessboard between
the couple of old men. As I have some interest in the matter, I approached
to see the game.
Check, check, check, one of the players said vehemently with a baritone
voice, and the other, a pale old man with swallowed cheeks and a white suit, turned
down his king. They started slowly to rearrange the pieces while I sat nearby.
I noted that the pieces were of that curious Mexican chess set in which the king
is like a President with a 1920's styled suit, the queen as Fox-Trot dancer (seemingly
the President's lover), the bishops as bodyguards (it was a lay country in the days
the chess set was designed and religious characters were not appropriate), the knights
as generals, the rooks like the National Palace, and the pawns as revolutionaries.
Carlos Torre Repetto always had with him one of these boards, the baritone
voiced old man said to me, without turning to see me. I told him that it was
the second board of the type that I have ever seen, and that it indeed was a very
Did you know him? I dared to ask.
Carlos Repetto Torre.
Oh not at all, I'm not that old, he said and smiled showing a big and healthy
set of teeth for a man of his age. Then he offered me a cigar with a firm
gesture and the white dressed old man gave me a light and said, Do you want to play?
I'm a little bit tired of losing to this old cheater.
I accepted and took his post.
You do know the rules, right? the baritone voiced old man asked me.
Sure, I said.
For the rules could be slightly different in Sierra Chess (Ajedrez de la Sierra)
What do you mean?
Oh, lets play. That's the best way to learn. Trial and error, as the
old Aztecs used to say, he said and moved his king pawn two squares forward.
To tell the truth I don't exactly remember the moves, but I have an idea of them.
So I pushed my king pawn to
e5. Next my opponent moved his knight to
f3 and I protected with
Nc6. Then suddenly, he took my
c6 knight with his f3 knight. That was the first
I looked at him in search of an explanation, but as there was none I decided not
to ask and to continue the game, whatever the rules were. Maybe because I
was taking pleasure in the game and all of the situation. After that I had
the idea of posting the pieces in an attacking manner, but my intention was always
retorted by a surprising countermove. I ended by laughing at every one of
these strange moves. Pawns moving to the sides and backwards?
So, this is Sierra Chess? I asked with more of the sudden happiness that
I was experiencing.
Sierra Chess, repeated both old men.
They were also good chess players, the Aztecs, the white dressed old man
said at one moment.
You mean after the Spanish conquerors came? I asked, watching how my opponent
changed the colour of his dark-squared bishop.
No, before that. Of course it was called different and they used carved bones
I never heard of that, I said.
While my opponent was pondering one of his moves, I placed the cigar in the ashtray
and let the sweet smoke roll out of my mouth like a thick night fog. It seemed
to be a funny smoke and I looked with attention at the cigar.
Do you like it? These are from my private 'ammunition', said the baritone
old man proudly.
I told him that it was very good, but that it had a strange sweet flavour.
Oh, they have a little amount of marijuana, he said in a natural way.
I have a little tobacco company. Not here but in the next town. I just
come here for the local whores. But there are no more of them. Isn't
that just my luck. I still come here to play with this stubborn old man,
he nodded to this companion. We add some quantity of 'stuff' to make them
tasteful, he explained, and his g2 bishop rebounded in h3 to end in g4.
I was starting to get an idea of the game and made some lateral pawn moves deep
in the position of my adversary knowing that I would be able to get them back at
will, but at this point my opponent announced a checkmate in five ended my rebel
pawns attack. Both old men laughed and I did the same. I was indeed
in a very delightful mood.
A very bad game, said a pleasant female voice from behind my shoulder.
I turned to see her and laughed again with no apparent reason. By this moment
I realized that the proportion of marijuana was maybe not so little as the old man
Besides, Aztecs did not played chess, she said with a sardonic gesture.
She seemed to have been sleeping recently, but was a beautiful girl. She must
have been twenty something.
Now, let me show you how this is played, she said, and took my place.
The baritone old man offered me another cigar but this time I declined. I
was more interested in the girl. She and the old men played six games in a
row alternating places. She had an intelligent stare, and she was winning
everyone of the games. She defeated them another four times and then the old
men were so exhausted that finally give up and went to the bar to drink with the
bartender. In the other table the three men were starting to rise the voices
in a violent manner. My mind was a little more clear now and we and the girl
remained at the table in silence.
Do you like it? she asked. I looked at her lovely eyes.
It's an interesting game, but I still don't understand some parts.
It's very easy, it's about raiding the board. I could teach you if wish,
she said. She appeared quite honest. After some moments we accorded
to go to her room in search of a pleasant environment for the learning matter.
She closed the board and I was taking the pieces, when a mature man, dressed with
the garments of a Catholic priest, came rapidly down the stairs and grabbed the
girl by the hand. I noticed he was carrying a suitcase.
Will you come with me? he asked with intensity. The girl appeared
to be very calm, but suddenly she kicked the priest and released his hand; she also
told him to go to hell and other sweet words, and then ran upstairs crying.
The priest followed her and again grabbed her hand before she went too far, and
they started to discuss again. There were more shouts and kicks, and in the
middle of all the mess I thought that my role in such a tormented relation was rather
unnecessary. To make the things worst, the three men appeared affected too
by the violent atmosphere and they also started to argue; the only difference was
that they were using guns and I saw their hands very close to them. The two
old men had finished their drinks and were walking hurriedly towards the door.
The suit dressed old man gave me a signal and I followed them out of the place.
The last thing I saw was the couple going upstairs, very close to each other, and
the three men tapping nervously at their guns under the table; the bartender cleaning
glasses and the fat woman sleeping pleasantly. After that the baritone old
man gave me a ride and we left that lost town in the Sierra Madre.
I would surely forgot all the matter, if not because some time ago I meet a girl
when she and some of her friends came to the used car business of my uncle, where
I was working at the time. The girl happened to be a relatively unknown singer
of a local music group. It was an easy sale for they were really interested
in any big truck to carry some of their instruments. But while I was arranging
the legal papers, I saw the girl playing a game of chess with a guy of her crew.
I recognized instantly the king moving like a knight. After a few moments
I was again playing a Sierra Chess game. In fact there were two of them.
She played fast and seemed to be a veteran player and she had no mercy of my rookie
Where did you learn to play? I asked.
I was a member of a local club in my neighbourhood, but that was a lot of time ago,
I see. We should play another pair of games some of this days. I like
the game, I said.
And she said she will call me later. Anyway, I understood more of the Sierra
Chess and was able to make a list of the rules and also the record of both games.
Here are the games with some repetitive comments in order to clarify the odd moves
and the boring rules at the end.
[Event "Used Car Match"]
Bf8xg5 Taking via the open path of g7 3.
f4 A protected pawn at 2 leaps from the knight on g1
Nb8xe5 A 2 leap move passing by the empty square c6
Ng8xf5 Via e7 or h6, both empty squares
Nf5xh1 Passing by g3 in 2 leaps 11.
Bxc7 c7 was protected for the king in a knightly manner, but was attacked
twice by the a3 knight and the f4 bishop
Bc7xf6 Taking via the open path e5 15...
Ke8xf6 A knightly move by the king 16.
Na3xa7 Taking the unprotected pawn in two leaps
h5g5+ A lateral move and the pawn is protected by the bishops on f6
or h6 22.
Bg7f4+ A twisted check the bishop passed by the empty square e5
a6 The b7 pawn is pinned for if it closes the bishops path to the king
Winning the knight for the black bishops has a path to it
Bd6xa7 Taking via b8 34.
Black wins for white has no pieces. 0-1
[Event "Used Car Match"]
Nf3xc6 Taking in 2 moves and passing by the empty square d4
Na3xd4 Passing by b5 7...
g4h4 A lateral move
Bg7xd4 The knight was in the 4 squares range of the bishop that jumps
above his own knight 11.
Bc1xd4 Also this bishop was in the 4 squares range that turned in the
e3 square 11...
Nf6xh2 A 2 leap move by the knight passing by g3
Rg2 To avoid been taken by the knight in 2 leaps 12...
Nh2xg1 White decides it's OK and the black knight takes passing by
Kg1h3 A knightly move by the king
c4 The pawn is protected by Bb7 passing either at a6 or d5
Qe7 The queen has a 4 squares range and now aims at e4
d6e6 A lateral pawn move
Ba7xc7 Taking via the open paths of b8 or b6
Qxh4# The white king is certainly in the 4 squares range of the queen,
black mates. 0-1
Finally, the general rules explaining those games could be stated as follow:
- The pawns can move one step forward, backward and at the sides, or two forward only
at the beginning . They can take diagonally in the four directions of the
next squares, like an 'X'
- The bishops can move at maximum four squares diagonally, can change the direction
if there is an available path and can leap over pieces. Also can change the
colour of square at a lateral or vertical immediate empty square.
- The knights are allowed to make one or two leaps passing by an empty square in the
- The king moves a square in every direction and also like a single knight move.
- The queen has a maximum of four squares extending in every direction.
- There is no castling and no en passant.
- Checkmate, stalemate and a bare opponent king are the ways to win.
*Thanks to Mr. Pony for his time in reviewing my English phrases in this report.