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Tamerlane chess

During the reign of Timur Lenk, also called Tamerlane (1336 - 1405), this game was played often in Persia. Some old sources tell that Timur invented the game himself, but this attribution is, as more of such attributions, not necessarily true. The game is a large variant of Shatranj, the orthodox chess-game of that period. As a consequence, the game was also called Shatranj Kamil (perfect chess) or Shatranj Al-Kabir (large chess).

The game was mentioned in Murray's History of Chess, and discussed in more detail, with sample game, in the book of Gollon.

See also:

The board

The game is played on an uncheckered board of 112 squares: a board with ten rows, eleven columns, plus two extra squares, one left of the ninth row, and one right of the second row. These two extra fields are called the citadels and play a special role in the game.


Each player has the following pieces: a king, a vizir, a general, two giraffes, two pickets, two knights, two rooks, two elephants, two camels, two war engines, and eleven pawns. Pawns are of special types: there is a pawn of kings, pawn of vizirs, pawn of generals, etc. Additionally, there is the pawn of pawns. The type of pawn affects what happens when the pawn promotes; this is quite special for the pawn of pawns, see below.

Opening setup

Three different opening setups were used. We give one of them here; for the others, which are not too different, see e.g. Gollon's description of the game.

The small pieces at the top rows of the players are pawns, modelled as a small copy of the type they belong to.

White's top row contains from left to right: pawn of pawns, pawn of war engines, pawn of camels, pawn of elephants, pawn of generals, pawn of kings, pawn of vizirs, pawn of giraffes, pawn of pickets, pawn of knights, pawn of rooks. The second row of white contains from left to right: rook, knight, picket, giraffe, general, king, vizir, giraffe, picket, knight, rook. The bottom row contains from left to right: elephant, space, camel, space, war machine, space, war machine, space, camel, space, elephant.

Movement of pieces

The king moves as a usual king.

The general moves one square diagonal.

The vizir moves one square straight (horizontal or vertical).

The giraffe moves one diagonal and then after that at least three straight. For instance, when on a1, the giraffe can move to b5, b6, b7, etc., provided that all passed squares (b2, b3, b4, ...) are empty.

The picket moves as a modern bishop, except that it always must move at least two squares.

The knight moves as a modern knight.

The rook moves as a modern rook.

The elephant jumps two squares diagonally: it goes exactly two squares diagonally, but is not obstructed by a piece on the square in between.

The camel has a kind of stretched knights move: it jumps one diagonally and two straight, so e.g. from a1 to b4 and d2; as a knight it is not obstructed by pieces standing on passed squares.

The war engine jumps straight (horizontally or vertically) two squares. Again, it is not obstructed by a piece on the jumped square; thus the war engine has the `straight' variant of the elephants move.

The pawns move as modern pawns, except that they have no initial double step. See below for the promotion rule.

Readers familiar with Shatranj will notice that all the usual pieces of Shatranj also play a role here, and have their original moves.

Promotion rules

The promotion rules are simple for almost all pawns, with two exceptions: the pawn of kings and the pawn of pawns. All other pieces, when reaching the last rank, promote to the type of piece they belong to: the pawn of rooks promotes to a rook, and the pawn of camels promotes to a camel, etc.

The pawn of kings promotes to a prince. A prince moves as a king, and should also be mated or taken before the opponent can win the game.

When the pawn of pawns reaches the final rank (for the first time), it stays there and cannot be captured when staying on this rank. When the player can put his pawn on such a spot, such that it attacks a piece which cannot escape being taken by this pawn, or such that it gives a fork: attacks two hostile pieces at the same time, the player may put his pawn on that spot, even when it is occupied (except when it is occupied by a king). The piece occupying the square (whether friendly or hostile) is taken from the board. Then the pawn of pawns moves again as a normal pawn. When the pawn of pawns reaches the final rank for the second time, it is directly moved to the starting square of the pawn of kings, i.e., to f3 or f8. When it reaches the final rank for the third time, it becomes an adventitious king. The adventitious king moves as a king, and should also be mated or taken before the opponent can win the game.


When a player is able to move his king into the citadel of his opponent, the game is drawn. A player may not move any other piece in the citadel of his opponent, and may only move his adventitious king in his own citadel. This prevents the opponent from occupying the citadel.

Other rules

Once during the game, a player may exchange his king, when checked, with an arbitrary friendly piece.

When a player has a prince or adventitious king, his king can just been taken. In that case, the prince or adventitious king takes the role of king (if in the citadel, the adventitious king should directly placed by the owning player on any unoccupied square. (I made this rule up myself: the situation seems not covered in the known rules.)

If a player, not owning a prince or adventitious king, is mated, he loses the game.

If a player is stalemated, he loses the game.

Play this game with or without a `bare king' rule: Gollon assumes there was not such a rule.


Many authors find this a very nice and playable large variant of Shatranj.


Eric Greenwood proposed a number of variants on Tamerlane Chess. Here is what he wrote.

The first variant has everything the same except: Between the King and the Firzan is a new piece, the GUard. He moves in any direction 1 square. In front of him is the GUard pawn. To make room for the GUard, the board is expanded 1 file. The rest of the pieces are in the same setup-so there are 2 squares between the War Engines, etc. Bishops are now on opposite colors, Camels don't protect each other, etc.

Variant 2 is similar, except: Elephants can move 1 or 2 squares diagonally, War Engines can move 1 or 2 squares horizontally [both pieces are able to jump], bishops can move 1 square as well as farther, the Ferz gains the power to move 1 square straight back, and the Giraffes can move 1 square diagonally and 2 [not 3] or more straight.

Variant 3: as 2, except a [modern] Queen replaces the Guard.

Variant 4: As 3, except the Giraffes are able to move 1 diag. and 1 or more horizontally.

Variant 5: as 3, except the Giraffes are fully liberated (may go straight and then the 1 square diagonal as well as the other way)

Written by Hans Bodlaender.
WWW page created: January 1996. Last modified: February 3, 2003.