The Chess Variant Pages

Chess Problems of 1001 Years Ago

Too few people realize the high level of culture that was achieved by the Arabs 1001 years ago. Many foundations of our present culture were not only laid by Greeks or Romans, but also by the Arabs. Chess for instance, was highly cultivized in Arab countries starting around the sixth century after the birth of Christ. At these ages and places, also the origins can be found of what we now call Chess Problems.

What remains now of these origins are several manuscripts, containing hundreds of Mansubat, or Shatranj problems. (Shatranj is the old form of Chess played in the Arab countries starting around the 6th century after birth of Christ.) Fortunately, the great chess historian Murray, in his monumental work A History of Chess, gives diagrams of many of these problems.

Some of these problems are erroneous, and the solution given in the ancient manuscript is wrong. Some of these problems are simple, and might be uninteresting. But also, several of these problems are hard, ingenious, and/or show highly talented design.

Many of the manuscripts date from the 9th century after the birth of Christ. It is interesting to realize that someone designed a chess puzzle, more than 1000 years ago, that is so hard, that we have have a hard time solving it.

Here you find a selection of such shatranj problems, that were deemed by me interesting for some reason. More problems might be added in the future. All problems are taken from Murray's History of Chess, but in some cases, small changes (mentioned at the respective problems) were made, and in most cases, solutions are given in a more extended form as by Murray. For more historic backgrounds, I refer you to Murray's History of Chess.

I hope you will have some nice moments, solving these mansubat, or chess problems of 1001 years ago.

The collection of mansubat - shatranj problems

  1. Dilaram's Problem. An ancient chess problem, with a charming story of love, sacrifice and chess.
  2. A modern exercise?. This simple problem uses only `modern' pieces and rules.
  3. The water wheel. A problem, famous enough to receive a name: the water wheel. An ingenious construction.
  4. Check! Problem, typical for many mansubat.
  5. The right way to check. In what order must black check white?
  6. Dilaram's Legacy. Easy problem with a story about two kings and their kingdoms attached to it.

Written by Hans Bodlaender.
WWW page created: August 13, 1996. Last modified: November 9, 1999.