Ouk Chatrang, the Cambodian Chess
and Makruk, the Thai Chess
Les échecs cambodgiens et thaïlandais
Ok or Ouk Chatrang is Cambodian Chess, Chess played in Cambodia and Makruk is Thai or Siamese Chess, Chess played in Thailand (old name was Siam).
Both national varieties are in fact almost the same game. Makruk is now one of the better recognized Chess variety. It is a very lively game, played in Thailand.
Makruk is also widely played in Cambodia as attested by Tim Krabbé. It is the true form of Cambodian Chess: the form given by Gollon and Pritchard (1st edition) in their books is, most probably, an invention. See the dedicated page to this strange Cambodian Chess.
In a very important article, Ouk Chatrang, the true Cambodian Chess, is described in detail by Vuthy Tan. However, his page is becoming old (June 13, 1998) and its disparition can be feared. Therefore, it has been decided to offer here a mirror for this precious page: Mirror page: Cambodian Chess Games by Vuthy Tan. (Disparition has finally happened!).
The name of the pieces and their meanings are the following:
* A seed is weird in this Chess context. The name could originate from the Sanskrit "Mantri" (=counsellor, minister) which was used in India as well as in Malaysia and Java.
Plastic set sold in Thailand
The very first account of Siamese Chess is due to La Loubère, the ambassador of French King Louis XIV to the Kingdom of Siam in 1687-8. More will be given by the Captain James Low to Asiatic Researches in 1836 and, finally, Edward Falkener will supply reliable informations he had got from Prince Devawongsee, Minister of Foreign Affairs of H.M. the King of Siam, in 1889.
Ouk Chatrang is most probably played in Cambodia for a long time, as it is depicted in several reliefs found on the Angkor temples which date from the XIIth century.
Also, they were attested by Marco
Polo : in 1285, he went to "Cyamba" which is Champa, a
Kingdom located in South Vietnam. His book says : "Il y a olifans assez en ce royaulme et si ont aussi
lingaloes assez et si ont moult grant planté de grans bois
et si ont fust noir que l'en appelle ybenus et dont l'en fait les
eschiez noirs." (There are elephants
in this realm and they also have a lot of aloe wood and they have
black wood named ebony from which black chess are made). Chinese
chess which is used today in Vietnam (Tuo-cong) did not used ebony
pieces, then it is very likely that Marco Polo saw a cousin of the
In the 1st millennium AD, the Indian culture spreads into south-east Asia. Under the influence of Tamil spice traders coming from the South of India and Ceylon, especially under the Chola dynasty, several indianised kingdoms were founded like Srivijaya in Sumatra and Java, Champa in South Vietnam, Zhenla and other Khmer states in Cambodia, etc.. Magnificent temples in Borobudur (Java) or Angkor (Cambodia) are still there to remember. Indians brought Hinduism, Buddhism, Sanskrit and writing alphabets, and also Chaturanga : Chess.
The first kingdoms founded by the Khmer people, Funan, Zhenla, felt under Javan domination circa 700. Jayavarman II, a prince educated in Java founded the Angkor Khmer kingdom in 802. Then, it can be assumed that Chess came in Cambodia from Java which in turn held it from South-East Indians.
Thai people migrated from China in the Xth century, then founded several states. In 1431 they seized Angkor and assimilated the Khmer kingdom. They probably learnt Chess from Cambodians and this is the reason why Cambodian Chess and Thai Chess are so identical.
In 1913, the great Chess historian Murray confessed in his History of Chess: "It is not possible to discover any trace of Indian ancestry in the nomenclature of Siamese Chess". However, today it is known that "Mak" is the word used for games in Thai and "Ruk" could come from Cambodian "ruk" or "ouk" meaning Check or Chess. Then "Makruk" would simply be "The Chess game". (from a private discussion with Th. Depaulis).
This South-East Asian Chess is probably the closest to the original Chess which comes from India. It has several similarities with the Sittuyin played in Burma but the latter seems more elaborated. In Malaysia and Indonesia, Chess (Main Chator) was latter influenced by Europeans -Portuguese, Dutch and English- and therefore, has lost some original rules and characteristics (for instance, they adopted the modern move of Queen and Bishop).
There are several points which merit a discussion :
The last 4 points can also be found in Shogi, the Japanese Chess. Modern Shogi historians now believe that Shogi has been influenced by Chess played in the South-East regions. There were frequented commercial maritime routes connecting Japan to India through the Malay Straits in these times.
There is a book about Makruk / Ouk Chatrang: "Thai Chess and Cambodian Chess, Makruk and Ouk Chatrang", Gary Gifford, Lulu Publishing, 2011
Retrouvez les règles et l'histoire du
Ouk et du Makruk dans
(Thanks to Bernd Ellinghoven for sending precious information)