The Chess Variant Pages

Kramnik plays Makruk Thai

Sensation in the World of Makruk Thai - World Chess Champion Kramnik playing Makruk Thai for the first time

This is a real chess sensation: Vladimir Kramnik, 28, from Russia, the current World Champion in International Chess, is starting to get interested in Makruk Thai. He has already played a match of Makruk Thai against the German journalist Dr. René Gralla, on the occasion of a simultan performance at the most important museum of Germany, the "Federal Hall of Arts" at Bonn, the former capital of Germany, on May 1st, 2004. And Mr. Kramnik has proven that he is the true World Champion of Chess - so he has learned Makruk Thai at once, and he has defeated his challenger, the author Dr. René Gralla, at once.

"Makruk Thai is more strategic than International Chess", that is the résumé by Mr. Kramnik. "You have to plan your operations with total care since Makruk Thai can be compared to an anticipated endgame of International Chess."
Now Mr. Kramnik is looking forward to a new challenge in Makruk Thai: He would like to play a mixed match of Makruk Thai and International Chess against the current Champion of Makruk Thai in Thailand. That is Mr. Tor Pagnaam who has just opened his own club at Samut Prakam, a provincial city round about 30 kilometers southwest of Bangkok.

Kramnik playing against Gralla. Photo (c) by Christoph Harder

Here are the highlights from the first match of Makruk Thai that the World Champion of Classic International Chess, Mr. Vladimir Kramnik, has ever played in Makruk Thai. Moreover this fragment seems to be historic - because that match seems to be first match of Makruk Thai ever that a World Champion of International Chess has played during the long history of chess.

Before starting to replay just remember the differences between Makruk Thai and International Chess. In Makruk Thai the opening set-up is very similar to that of orthodox chess, with the following differences: the positions of White King and White Queen are reversed - White King is positioned on d1, White Queen is positioned on e1 -, and all Pawns are starting out already on the third respectively sixth row.

Concerning the moves of the pieces, you have to learn different moves concerning two pieces only:

  • the Thai Queen is only moving one square diagonally; so the Thai Queen is moving the same way as the Vezir of the Classic Arabic Chess "Shatranj" has moved;
  • the Thai Bishop moves one square diagonally or, and this extra-ability is turning the Thai Bishop into a rather tricky piece, one square straight forward.
The Pawn is moving just like a Pawn in FIDE Chess, but since these infantrymen are starting out already on row no. 3 (or no. 6, respectively), a Pawn is not allowed to make a double step on its first move. When a White Pawn is reaching the lateral no. 6 (and a Black Pawn is reaching the lateral no. 3, respectively), so the soldier will be promoted to become a Makruk Queen already there. The King, the Rook and the Knight are moving the same way, as the corresponding pieces are moving in International Chess. With one more exception: There is no castling in Thai Chess.

Now let's see how the World Champion in Classic Chess, the 28-years-old Vladimir Kramnik from Moscow/Russia, is handling these - slightly - different rules.

White:      Vladimir Kramnik/RUS
Black:      Dr. René Gralla/GER
May 1st, 2004, Bonn/Germany

1.c3-c4 f6-f5 2.Nb1-c3 Ng8-f6 3.Ng1-e2 Nb8-d7 (diagram)

White: Ra1 // Bc1 // Kd1 // Qe1 // Bf1 // Rh1; Ne2 ; P a3 // b3 // Nc3 // Pd3 // e3 // f3 // g3 // h3 ; Pc4
Black: Pf5 ; Pa6 // b6 // c6 // d6 // e6 // Nf6 // Pg6 // Ph6; Nd7; Ra8 // Bc8 // Qd8 // Ke8 // Bf8 // Rh8

After these first three moves the position is looking like a kind of English Opening, being answered by a Dutch defence - having been transformed to the scenery of Makruk Thai.

Tough fighting has followed, with the result that Black has lost a Pawn after a blunder. In the end a position like this has developed (diagram).

White: Nc1 // Rf1 ; Kc2 ; Pa3 // Bd3 // Pf3 // Ph3 ; Pb4 // Pe4 ; Pd5
Black: Pb5 // Pe5 // Pg5 // Bh5 ; Pa6 // Bb6 // Ph6 ; Kd7 ; Rf8

Now Black, having to move in this position, could have kept the balance by 1. ... Bh5h4! 2.Be2 Rf6! 3.Rh1 Kd6 - by menacing the incursion 4. ... Bh4g3 (diagram)

White: Nc1 // Rh1 ; Kc2 // Be2 ; Pa3 // f3 // h3 ; Pb4 // e4 ; Pd5
Black: Bh4 ; Pb5 // e5 // g5 ; Pa6 // Bb6 // Kd6 // Rf6 // Ph6

Instead of that stubborn defence Black has tried out a little combination - and he has lost consequently:
1. ... g5-g4? 2.h3xg4 Bh5xg4 3.Rf1-h1! ...
Black has overlooked this possibility.
3. ... Rf8xf3 4.Rh1xh6 Rf3-f2+ 5.Kc2-c3 ...
Now there is a very funny coincidence - if we are looking at this position from the point of view of International Chess. So let's first show the diagram with symbols that are used in FIDE Chess(diagram).

White: Nc1 ; Pa3 // Kc3 // Bd3 ; Pb4 // Pe4 ; Pd5 ; Rh6 ;
Black: Rf2 ; Bg4 ; Pb5 // Pe5 ; Pa6 // Bb6 ; Kd7

If the situation shown right above would have been a position of International Chess, so Black could have check-mated the White King by move no. 2: 5. ... Bd4+ 6.Kb3 Rb2#. A lucky moment - check-mate a real World Champion of Chess after move no. 2. But unfortunately, this is the wrong movie ... since this is not match of FIDE Chess, but a game of Makruk Thai (diagram).

White: Nc1 ; Pa3 // Kc3 // Bd3 ; Pb4 // Pe4 ; Pd5 ; Rh6
Black: Rf2 ; Bg4 ; Pb5 // Pe5 ; Pa6 // Bb6 ; Kd7

So, since this is Makruk Thai, Black has to resign: because of the three deadly possibilities of White: 6.Rxb6 ... or 6.Rh7+ ... (after 5. ... Ba7) or 6.d6=Q+ ... (after 5. ... Kc7).
Consequence: 5. ... Resigns 1:0
In the end no big surprise, of course: the World Champion of Chess is the World Champion of Chess is the World Champion of Chess.

The Great Blockade

After the bitter defeat in Makruk Thai against World Chess Champion VladimirKramnik, the German journalist Dr. René Gralla has been more lucky against the strong German player Torsten Mendel, on the occasion of a training tournament at the Portuguese Café "Transmontana" at Hamburg, the big port city in the north of the Federal Republic. During that match - that has been interrupted two times - a friendly "tewada", a helpful ghost from Southeast Asia, has helped the commander of the Black army to induce the White troops into a funny stalemate-situation: They have been blocked hopelessly so that they had to surrender though the majority of the pieces still have been on the board.
White:      Torsten Mendel/GER
Black:      Dr. René Gralla/GER
May 8th, 2004/May 23rd, 2004/June 6th, 2004, Hamburg/Germany
1.d3-d4 f6-f5 2.Bc1-c2 Ng8-f6 3.Nb1-d2 Bf8-f7 4.Nd2-c4!?!? ... (diagram)

White: Ra1 // Kd1 // Qe1 // Bf1 // Ng1 // Rh1 ; Bc2 ; Pa3 // b3 // c3 // e3 // f3 // g3 // h3 ; Nc4 // Pd4 ;
Black: Pf5 ; Pa6 // b6 // c6 // d6 // e6 // Nf6 // Pg6 // h6 ; Bf7 ; Ra8 // Nb8 // Bc8 // Qd8 // Ke8 // Rh8

Losing time, in the end. Plus: the Knight can not hold on to that position, in the long run - so that excursion of the left-wing "ma" will be turning out to be premature.
4. ... Qd8-c7 5.Bf1-f2 Nb8-d7 6.f3-f4? ... (diagram)

White: Ra1 // Kd1 // Qe1 // Ng1 // Rh1 ; Bc2 // Bf2 ; Pa3 // b3 // c3 // e3 // g3 // h3 ; Nc4 // Pd4 // f4;
Black: Pf5 ; Pa6 // b6 // c6 // d6 // e6 // Nf6 // g6 // h6 ; Qc7 // Nd7 // Bf7 ; Ra8 // Bc8 // Ke8 // Rh8

That seems to be the decisive strategic miscalculation already: White is producing - without being forced to do so - a fatal gap on the square e4. This would have been dangereous in FIDE Chess - because of the power of a Bishop if that piece would occupy the diagonal b7 - h1. But it is very doubtful in Makruk Thai too - even if the Thai Bishops, moving no more than one square by every move, are significantly slower to exploit that weakness in the camp of White.
It is no real surprise that e4 will be the gate of a Black assault, in the not so near future. That is to say: 12 moves later.
6. ... Rh8-g8 7.Ng1-e2 g6-g5 8.Rh1-g1 g5xf4 9.g3xf4 Rg8xg1 10.Ne2xg1 Ke8-e7 11.Bf2-f3 ...
White is already sensing the weakness - so he is trying to observe the ominous square e4.
11. ... Bc8-b7
A kind of "fianchetto" in Makruk Thai. And even if a Bishop of Makruk Thai can not move as fast as a Bishop of FIDE Chess, the strategy of first occupying (11. ... Bb7) and later opening up the diagonal b7 - h1 (see move no.13) will be the winning plan.
12.Ng1-e2 Ra8-g8
White has lost too much time by getting his pieces into position - so Black is the first one to occupy the g-line.
13.Kd1-d2 c6-c5
Opening up the door: the right black Bishop is looking at square e4.
14.Kd2-d3 Bb7-c6
The Bishop is starting the long march on e4.
15.b3-b4 Bc6-d5! (diagram)

White: Ra1 // Qe1 ; Bc2 // Ne2 ; Pa3 // c3 // Kd3 // Pe3 // Bf3 // Ph3 ; Pb4 // Nc4 // Pd4 // Pf4 ;
Black: Pc5 // Bd5 // Pf5 ; Pa6 // b6 // d6 // e6 // Nf6 // Ph6 ; Qc7 // Nd7 // Ke7 // Bf7 ; Rg8

Now the plan is: 16. ... b5 plus 17. ... c4+ (18.Na5 Qb6). There is not much left that White can do against that.
16.Ra1-b1 ...
The blunder 16.Bb3??? ... would be goofy (16. ... b5 plus 17. ... c4+).
16. ... b6-b5
That possibility is the final result of the senseless try 4.Nc4!?!?... .
17.Nc4-b2 ...
Barely avoiding the funny Harakiri of 17.Nd2?? ... : Then the White King would have been trapped right in the middle of the board - so Mr. Mendel would have to sacrifice a horse - 17. ... c4+ 18.Nxc4 ... (there is no other way to prevent check-mate) 18. ... bxc4+ 19.Kd2 ... .
17. ... c5-c4+ 18.Kd3-d2 Bd5-e4
So the Saint ... Bishop ... is marching in ... - on e4 ...
19.Bf3xe4 Nf6xe4+
The ideal position for that Horse.
20.Kd2-d1 Rg8-g2
Now the thrust of the tank force. At this moment the battle has been interrupted on May 8th, 2004; the fighting has been resumed on May 23rd, 2004.
21.a3-a4 Qc7-b6!
Defending square no. a5 against the eventual occupation by the White Rook - thus avoiding the loss of Pawn b5.
22.a4xb5 a6xb5 23.Rb1-a1 ...
Hoping for a chance on the a-line.
23. ... Rg2-h2
Black has checked out the remaining possibilities of White - and he has found out: the invasion of the White Rook via the square a8 is leading to nowhere-land.
24.Ra1-a6? ...
Just a demonstration without real value: White should have played Ra8 at once.
24. ... Rh2xh3
Winning that important Pawn. That does not necessarily mean the end in Makruk Thai - but in this special case of a total blockade of White, the situation is different.
25.Qe1-d2 h6-h5
This Pawn will become a Queen very soon. 26.Ra6-a8 ...
Too late now.
26. ... h5-h4 27.Ra8-h8 Rh3-h1+ 28.Qd2-e1 h4-h3=Q (diagram)

White: Kd1 // Qe1 ; Nb2 // Bc2 // Ne2 ; Pc3 // e3 ; Pb4 // d4 // f4 ; Rh8;
Black: Rh1 ; Qh3 ; Pc4 // Ne4 ; Pb5 // f5 ; Qb6 // Pd6 // e6 ; Nd7 // Ke7 // Bf7

The beginning of the end: the joint force of Black Rook, Black Knight plus the new Queen will start the final assault by moving from the right flank of White that has already been conquered to the center and the left flank of Mr. Mendel - thus squeezing the White army.
29.Rh8-h7 Ke7-f6
At this very moment the match has been interrupted again, on May 23rd, 2004. Decision day has dawned on June 6th, 2004:
30.Rh7-h8 Kf6-g7 31.Rh8-h4? ...
The White Rook should have rumbled to d8 in order to create at least a little bit of confusion. Now, on the hopeless position h4, even the Rook can not move anymore.
31. ... Nd7-f6 (diagram)

White: Kd1 // Qe1 ; Nb2 // Bc2 // Ne2 ; Pc3 // e3 ; Pb4 // d4 // f4 // Rh4 ;
Black: Rh1 ; Qh3 ; Pc4 // Ne4 ; Pb5 // f5 ; Qb6 // Pd6 // e6 // Nf6 ; Bf7 // Kg7

Now White is paralyzed completely. And he is helpless against the swing of cavalry 32. ... Ng4 - being the harbinger of total destruction. An incredible stalemate - in a stadium of the match where there are still so many pieces on the board.

32. Resigns. 0:1

A beautiful "nangfa" - an angel having obviously flown in directly from Thailand - , she has helped the author this time. Thank you very much - kop khun mak krap!

Dr. René Gralla, Hamburg/Germany

Written by René Gralla. Written in summer 2004; webpage made january 2005. Photo by Christoph Harder © by Christoph Harder. Used with permission.