An Illustrated History of Chess

  1 Origins
  2 Early Chess

  3 Thailand, Burma
  4 China

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

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An Illustrated History of Chess

Game lovers will never stop dreaming up new versions of chess. To quote D.B. Pritchard, author of The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants, "Anyone can invent a new chess variant within ten seconds (try it) and unfortunately some people do."

The point is this: it's easy to think "what if...the board were bigger, smaller, differently shaped; what if there were more players, more pieces, more moves..." but it is not so easy to invent a game, based on chess, which has merit in itself...and which many people might actually enjoy playing. Pritchard's encyclopedia includes some 160 variants — and claims to have excluded hundreds more, which the author considered less worthy. Let's glance at just a few interesting chess variants, to stimulate the imagination...


D.B. Pritchard's The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants
from the cover of The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants, by D.B. Pritchard

dou shou qi

Here is a Chinese game, dou shou qi ("doe show chee"), meaning "fighting animal game." It seems to be a children's variant of Chinese chess, and has been around for at least a century. The pieces represent animals: the bigger ones eat the smaller ones, in a quest to enter the opponent's den (like the Chinese chess fortress).

Interestingly, dou shou qi has many similarities to the popular game Stratego, and it is widely supposed that Stratego evolved from this game.
One of the most popular American chess variants is from the early seventies, Smess ... as in the deriding rhyme "chess — smess!" The interesting change here is that the squares of the board — not the identity of the different pieces — define the direction of the pieces' moves. Easy to learn, and interesting in the unique complexities it offers.



Neo Chess is an obvious enough variant. It is played like western chess, but adds the possibility of placing captured pieces back in play — something borrowed directly from the Japanese chess, shogi.

Shuuro, a new chess variant played on a 12 x 12
board with obstacle blocks

And here's a new variant with several interesting features. Shuuro is played on a large 12 x 12 board, with randomly placed blocks to alter the landscape. The two armies are various combinations of pieces are set up in an array chosen by the players before the moves commence. Fascinating changes, but easy for the standard chess player to grasp, since the pieces move in the ways that we are used to.

And who says chess has to be played on squares? This is just one of many variants which try spaces of a different shape. Hexes is played on hexagons, and the moves of the pieces are adapted as logically as possible to the game's altered geometry. Note that three different colors of playing spaces are present, and each side has 3 bishops — one to command each color.


I hope you've enjoyed this brief romp through the world of chess, and that it has stimulated your curiosity. If so, please investigate some of the links found on the links page to take your investigation further. Playing sets for the variants discussed here are available through this web site, as are the rules of play for several variants. It is a pleasure to share this special passion for chess history and evolution. Drop us an email, if you have a moment, with questions, corrections, or enthusiastic exclamations of any kind.

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