Varieties of Chess in ancient world

Les différents échecs de l'ancien monde

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As an evidence of a rich history, many different Chess co-exist in the World.

Even if the International form of Chess is widely known and played in several Asian countries, they are some regional variations which are still very lively nowadays.

Xiangqi which is played in China and in several South-Asian countries (Singapore, Malaysia,...) can be honored of the title of World's most played boardgame. It is estimated that more than 200 millions people play Xiangqi. It is also very popular in Vietnam where it is named Cò tuóng. Many occidental travellers have been abused while looking at a Xiangqi game : using tokens rather than carved relief pieces, it has been taken for Draughts rather than Chess. As a matter of fact, Xiangqi is a very nice Chess, seducing with its river, palaces, elephants and cannons.

In the neighboring Korea, people play Janggi which is a related form. The river has disappeared and the pieces, which are octogonal, have earned more moving power.

Japanese have their own variation, called Shogi which is very intriguing. They use an army of generals of different precious metals or jewels. Literally, Shogi means the game of the generals. Captured pieces are not merely removed ; they just switch side just as the Samurais used to do in the Sogun era when they were fierce mercenaries. For this reason, pieces are shaped to show their direction.

Xiangqi, Changgi and Shogi are not the only specific Asian varieties. In South-East, they are forms which have developed from an original Indian 2-Handed Chatrang/Chaturanga (there were a 4-Handed Chaturanga as well). Then, on an unicolor board and with boats and elephants, there are the Sittuyin in Burma, the Makruk in Thailand which is the form learnt from the Cambodian Ouk Chatrang (there is another Cambodian Chess, but its authenticity is doubtful). There is also Main Chator in Malaysia and Indonesia, influenced by European rules after the coming of Portuguese, Dutch and English sailors and traders in the 16th c.

Finally, in the Northern arid lands, there are Shatar and Hiashatar, played in Mongolia. It is not surprising to learn that in this country of dreadful riders who once submitted Eurasia from China to Hungary, the knight has enhanced powers. Other pieces are camels or snow panthers reflecting the wildness of nature. Chandraki, the supposely played form in Tibet is still mysterious.

There are no genuine Chess in Africa. However, two original games are known, both from Arabic origin (Shatranj): Senterej in Ethiopia and Samantsy in Madagascar.

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26/04/2014