Traditional Board Games

Shatranj problem, March 2014

Shatranj problem, March 2014
Shatranj problem, March 2014

Saturday, 15th March 2014

This is the first in a monthly series of problems for the game shatranj, or mediaeval chess. These are said to be authored by mediaeval chess masters al-Adli and as-Suli, and were recorded in various manuscripts from between A.D. 1140 and 1370. They are given in H. J. R. Murray's 1913 book A History of Chess, from which I have taken them.

A Reminder of the Rules of Shatranj

The start of a game of shatranj.
The start of a game of shatranj.

This is a brief reminder, for chess players, about how shatranj, or mediaeval chess, differs from the modern game.

The king, rook and knight move as the modern pieces do. The pawn only ever moves one step forward, never two. The bishop moves exactly two squares diagonally, and can jump over a piece in the way. The queen moves diagonally to an adjacent square, much like a draughts king.

Castling and en-passant moves are unknown. A pawn always promotes to a queen. Stalemate is a loss for the trapped player, and if one side is reduced to only a king then that player has lost the game.

The diagram shows the full setup of the pieces, and illustrates the symbols used for each of the pieces in the mediaeval game. For a full discussion of the game, including a full set of rules, see the Shatranj page.

The problems take a form similar to modern chess problems, e.g. "White to play and win". Opposing moves will often be forced, while at other times the defending side is expected to make the best move possible, i.e. the one which staves off defeat for the longest time.

In the first of the problems, white plays and wins. The solution to this problem will be given next month.


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