An Illustrated History of Chess

  1 Origins
  2 Early Ches

  3 Thailand, Burma
  4 China

  5 From China?
  6 Korea
  7 Japan
  8 Evolution
  9 Europe
  10 Variants

Exotic Chess

The History
of Chess

How To Play
Chess from
Around the World

Links to
More Great
Chess Sites

Contact Us

An Illustrated History of Chess

makruk (Thai chess)
Compare these pieces to the ones we were just examining. The board is the same, and you can still recognize the horse...but the other pieces have been replaced by neatly lathed abstractions.
Throughout the history of chess, this desire to make lathed pieces has been at work, changing the shape of chessmen. The pieces here are so similar to each other that you might at first have trouble telling them apart.
This is makruk, the national chess of Thailand, still played avidly throughout that country. All pieces, except one, retain the same moves they had in ancient chess, but the former chariot is considered to be a boat, the elephant is now a nobleman, the king's assistant is a seed and the foot soldier is a cowry shell. An interesting mix of changes that fits the local realities of transportation and politics, and the shapes and materials of the playing pieces.
makruk (Thai chess) all set up and ready to play
makruk, ready for a first move
the move of the makruk (Thai chess) nobleman, the traditional move of the elephant in south-east Asian chess variants
move of the nobleman, the typical "elephant's" move
in Southeast Asia

Note also that the pawns are placed on the third row, something this form of chess shares with Japanese chess — as we shall see later.

The one piece that moves differently from its ancient counterpart is the elephant/nobleman. Here we have an interesting story:
It is said that the elephant's move which caught on in Southeast Asia represented the "five appendages" of the elephant. He moved to the four diagonal directions for each of his legs, plus straight forward — for the trunk.
The Thai "elephant" retains this centuries old interpretation, but the specific image of the move is lost, as the piece has now become a nobleman.

In Burmese chess, sittuyin, that piece moving in those five directions still is an elephant. And you can be sure because the centuries-old figures of chessmen is Burma are literal representations of their battlefield characters. Take a look at the pieces shown here: they are sculpted interpretations of the armed warriors well known from the ancient Persian, Indian and Islamic game.

Only the rook is a little odd. The piece is called a chariot or carriage (in Burmese, of course), but it is usually depicted as a small ceremonial hut. Strangely similar to our modern rook shaped like a castle turret, here again we have a stationary building running around on the battlefield.

typical Burmese style sittuyin chessmen

the Burmese chessmen set up:
pawns advanced to the 3rd and 4th rank and
pieces strataegically laid out by the players
before play begins

But the Burmese game certainly has a twist of its own one of the biggest changes in the history of the game. For starters, the Burmese pawns are set up far advanced, some on the 3rd and some on the 4th rows. So far forward that the first move of the game could be one pawn capturing another.

But the big twist is that once the pawns are set up, the players place their pieces wherever they like behind the pawn rows (some restrictions apply). It is as if the whole opening series of moves is done at once and play commences in the middle of the game.

So, we've seen that the ancient Persian chess moved westward, where it became the Arabian game, and eventually evolved into our modern western "international" chess. And it moved east and south, where it became the Burmese sittuyin and the Thai game of makruk
...but wait!

There is another lineage of chess which may pre-date these games altogether!
Let's take a look at chess in China...

<<Previous Page ... Next Page>>