The Chess Variant Pages

Parsi Chess

By John Ayer



“Parsi Chess” is a general term for a number of local varieties of chess played in southern India in the nineteenth century, apparently descended from the game brought by the European traders at the start of the seventeenth century. The following rules appear to be typical and distinctive.

Source: Murray’s History of Chess, pages 82–85.


The board was still the original one on which chess was invented: eight squares by eight, uncheckered, but with the first, fourth, fifth, and eighth squares of the first, fourth, fifth, and eighth rank and file specially marked. 


(Setup image created with Game Courier by the editor.)

The king and vizier stand on the two central squares on the first rank, with the king on the right and the vizier on the left from each player’s point of view. They are flanked on each side by a camel, then by a horse, and lastly by an elephant. The elephant may be replaced by a chariot or even a castle, and the camel is not invariant, though the horse is always a horse. Pawns fill up the second rank.


The pieces have the same basic moves as in Europe. The piece in the corners, whatever its shape, has the rook’s move, the horse has the knight’s leap, the camel or other piece next inboard runs along the diagonals, and the vizier has the queen’s move. The king moves one square in any direction, and cannot castle, but once in each game may leap like a knight. He may exercise this power after he has moved, and even to get out of check, and may capture on that leap. Whether, having once been checked, and having escaped the check by other means, he may afterwards leap, we are not told. Probably he could.

The pawn moves one step forward, and captures one step diagonally forward. The rooks’, king’s, and vizier’s pawns may move two squares forward on their first moves (bringing those pawns to marked squares), provided in each case that the piece behind the pawn has not yet moved. There is no capture en passant.

A pawn reaching the eighth rank is promoted to the rank of whatever piece originally stood on that square (except on the king’s home square), provided that the player who owns the pawn has already lost a piece of the appropriate type, because a player can never have more of any type of piece than he started with. On the c or f file, the camel (bishop) that could reach that square must already have been lost (and remember that the board was not checkered). A pawn that reaches the opposing king’s square can be promoted to the rank of any piece already lost. A knight gained by promotion can make an immediate knight’s leap. However, a pawn cannot be promoted to knight if the knight would immediately give check. A pawn cannot be moved to the eighth rank unless it can legally be promoted; it is stuck on the seventh rank, a stationary target. Whether it can offer a check that could not be executed is not stated; logic suggests that it could not.


The player with the first move starts by making a series of moves, typically four or eight but any number from three to nine have been recorded, provided that no piece crosses the center line. The second player then replies with the same number of moves, still not crossing the center line, and then the game proceeds one move at a time.

Checkmate is a win, and the lowlier the piece that dealt the fatal blow, the more the victor relished his win. Stalemate is not allowed, and in some localities a player who found himself stalemated could confiscate one of his opponent’s pieces to make room for his own move. Perpetual check is not allowed. Rules concerning the reduction of forces on one side or both were so various as to resist codification.