Showing posts with label Chaturanga. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chaturanga. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Persian Chess Shatranj

Shatranj - Photo: Wikimedia
Shatranj is the direct descendant of Chaturanga and had become popular in the Middle East and Persia for almost 1000 years. More so, the modern chess is also
believed to have gradually developed from Shatranj.

The term Shatranj was derived from the Sanskrit Chaturanga, where chatu means four and anga means arm. The game also came to Persia from India during the early centuries of the Christian era. One of the earliest references to chess found in Persia is the book "Karnamak-i Artaxshir-i Papakan", which was written around the 3rd to 7th century.

The game Shatranj adapted much of the rules of Chaturanga, including the basic sixteen piece structure. However, in later variants of the game, the darker squares were eventually engraved. The Shatranj also spread westward and achieved popularity and body of literature on game strategy and tactics from the 8th century and onwards.

The Rules of Shatranj

Initially, the setup of the game is the same as modern chess, although the position of the king of white shah, on the left or right side, was not entirely established. Shatranj is played using pieces, such as:
the king or shah,
the rukh or rook,
the fers or counselor,
the pill or elephant,
the faras or horse
and the baidak or pawns.
Almost all the movements of the Shatranj pieces are similar to modern chess with the exception of the two square movements of the pawn during the first move. There are also other differences of Shatranj compared to modern chess, such as: the castling, which was not allowed but later invented. In the event of stalemating, the opposing king will result in a win.

More so, if a player captures the entire opponent’s pieces apart from the king, that player will normally be declared the winner. However, if the opponent could
capture the last piece on the next move, the game will result in a draw.

The gameplay of Shatranj includes the openings. These were usually called tabbiyya or battle array when translated. However, due to the slow piece progress in the game, the precise sequence of moves was unimportant. Instead, the players aimed to reach a specific position, mostly ignoring the play of their opponent.

Additionally, the pieces used for Shatranj had values, which used a monetary system. Such values include: 
one dirhem for the rook,
two-third dirhem for the knight,
one-fourth dirhem for the alfil,
one-third to three-eighth dirhem for the fers,
one-fourth dirhem for the central pawn,
one-sixth to one-fifth dirhem for the alfil’s or knight’s pawn
and one-eighth dirhem for the rook’s pawn.

These values were established and estimated by as-Suli, who was the strongest Shantranj player during the reign of the al-Muktafi caliph, and al-Adli.

Early Beginnings of Shatranj

There are several works written about Shatranj during the Golden Age of Arabic. These recorded the analysis of opening games, knight’s tour, chess problems and
other subjects that are commonly found in modern chess books.

Shatranj players who have the highest class were also called grandees or aliyat. There were only a few players that fell under this category and the most well known are: Abun-Naam, Rabrab, and Jabir al-Kulfi, who were the three aliyat players during the al-Ma’mun caliph rule; Al-Lajlaj who was a great master of Shatranj; and Ar-Razi who won 847 games against powerful Shatranj opponents.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Indian Chess Chaturanga

Photo: Wikimedia
Chess, as well all know, is a recreational and competitive sport played between two players.

Nowadays, it is sometimes referred to as international chess or Western chess, which is actually used to distinguish it from its predecessors and other variants. More so, chess is one of the world’s most popular games, played by millions of people in clubs, online, tournaments and informally.

However, where did chess actually began? Who were the first people ever to invent this intellectual sport and what was its original purpose? The chess game was thought to have originated in India or Afghanistan before 600 A.D. However, there are several and unverified claims stating that the game existed as
early as 100 A.D.

The Chaturanga

The chess game has been attributed to the Indians by both the Arabs and the Persian people. However, the main origin of the sport has been lost in antiquity. Chess in Old Persian and Arabic are "chatrang" and "shatranj" respectively. Both of these terms are derived from the Sanskrit word "Chaturanga". Literally, the word Chaturanga means the army of four divisions, constituting the cavalry, infantry, elephant, and chariots, which are now being respectively represented by the knight, pawn, bishop, and rook.

Aside from chess, Chaturanga is also presumed to be the common origin of the Japanese shogi, the Thai makruk, the Chinese xiangqi, and the Korean janggi. The game was played since the early 6th century or probably earlier, hence it is believed to be the most common and oldest version of chess.

As previously mentioned, Chaturanga consists of the cavalry, chariots, elephants, and infantry, which reflects the four divisions of the army in ancient India. These are additional units besides the king and his general or counselor in the center. The Infantry is represented by the line of advancing pawns. Located near the center of the army are war elephants. The horse, with a flanking horse move, is represented by the mounted cavalry and the chariots or ships, which move hastily and in a linear fashion.

Chaturanga was originally played in an eight-by-eight un-checkered board, also known as the Ashtapada. Additionally, the board has markers that have meanings
still unknown today. However, it is known that these special markers are not related to Chaturanga and were rather drawn only by tradition. Murray, a renowned chess historian, speculated that the board was also used for other dice-type games, in which the markers it contains had meanings.

The Rules of Chaturanga

The exact rules of Chaturanga are yet to be known. However, several chess historians believe that the game has the similar rules to Shatranj, which is its direct descendant. By using the rules of Shatranj, the movements of the Chaturanga pieces can be mapped out.

The Raja or King moves like the King in modern chess. The Senapati or General, also known as the Mantri or Counselor, moves diagonally, occupying only a single square. Like the Rook in modern chess, the Ratha or Chariot moves on straight lines either horizontally or vertically.

As for the Gaja or Elephant, there are three possible moves that the piece makes, such as two squares diagonally, one square diagonally or forward, two squares orthogonally. 

The Horse of Ashva moves like the Knight. Foot soldiers or the Pedati or Bhata are similar to the pawns of modern chess.