The classic version of chess that has been longer in practice than the modern FIDE Chess that has been the Arabic "Shatranj". The game that is supposed to have developed from Indian "Chaturanga" has first appeared in Persia around the 7th century A.D.; and Shatranj remained immensely popular for the next nine (!) centuries, not only throughout the Arab world, but everywhere where people played chess back then. In comparison to that the mainstream chess of today is around for just five hundred years only.
So what is the real chess? If we are looking for "the real thing" and if we are bent on to care only for the original version of chess then we should start to consider to revive the one and only true chess: the "Shatranj".
That would be a difficult task, of course, taking into account the notorious immovableness of hard-core FIDE-Chess-players. But now the good news is: We do not need to tackle the very tricky task of putting new life into "Shatranj" since "Shatranj" is very much alive - by wearing the bright tropical colours of "Mak Rook Thai", the traditional chess throughout the main parts of South-East Asia.
|Coordinates of White Army:
King d1; Vezir e1; Rooks a1 / h1; Knights b1 / g1; Elephants c1 / f1; Pawns a2, b2, c2, d2, e2, f2, g2, h2.
Coordinates of Black Army:
King d8; Vezir e8; Rooks a8 / h8; Knights b8 / g8; Elephants c8 / f8; Pawns a7, b7, c7, d7, e7, f7, g7, h7.
The opening set-up is very similar to Shatranj - and to modern international chess too - , apart from two modifications. White King and White "Queen" - the companion of the King of Thai Chess is called "Met" in Thai language - have their positions reversed: That is different to modern chess and a 50-per cent-modification of the starting-out position of Classic Arab "Shatranj"; in "Shatranj" the Kings and Vezirs of both (!) armies have their positions reversed with regard to the initial array of FIDE Chess. Moreover the Pawns of Mak Rook Thai march into battle from advanced positions: row no. 3 (White) and row no. 6 (Black). Please see the diagram.
|Coordinates of White Army:
King d1; Met (Thai Chess-"Queen") e1; Rooks a1/ h1; Knights b1 / g1; Thai Chess-"Bishops" c1/f1; Pawns a3, b3, c3, d3, e3, f3, g3, h3.
Coordinates of Black Army:
King e8; Met (Thai Chess-"Queen") d8; Rooks a8 / h8; Knights b8 / g8; Thai Chess-"Bishops" c8 / f8; Pawns a6 , b6 , c6 , d6 , e6 , f6, g6, h6.
|White: Ka1; Nf6 ; Rh7;
Therefore it is no surprise that the "Checkmate of the Arabs"-constellation happens fairly often in Thai Chess (which has been the case in Arab Chess too, of course, since it is the scenario of Shatranj where the "Checkmate of the Arabs" derives its name of).
So the fact that the "Checkmate of the Arabs" is a common pattern in Thai Chess can be considered as being a clear indicator for the deep-rooted relationship between Thai Chess and Arab Chess.
In many cases it is just the threat of a fancy variation of the "Checkmate of the Arabs"-constellation that can decide countless games in Thai Chess. See the following example of a match of Mak Rook that has been played in the German Diaspora of Thai Chess: between two "Farang" (Thai language; in English: "foreigners") that have tried to unravel the mysteries of that fascinating variant of chess by a series of test matches.
White: Torsten Mendel
Black: Dr. René Gralla
Training competition; October 19th, 2003; Hamburg/Germany, Café "Transmontana"
If that would have been FIDE Chess, that response would have been called "Fred Defence": 1.e4 f5 pp. ... .
2.Nb1-d2 Ng8-f6 3.f3-f4 Nb8-d7
Black resorts to the "High Horse Defence" - with the Knight f6 being the "High Horse".
In contradiction to Black's "High Horse Defence", White has chosen the "Low Horse"-battle order- with the two "low" Horses sitting on d2 and e2.
4. ... Q*d8-c7 5.B*f1-f2 e6-e5 6.f4xe5 d6xe5 7.B*f2-f3 Q*c7-d6 8.g3-g4? ...
White would have liked to exchange the g-Pawn at the right flank against the more central Black Pawn f5. In principle an exchange like that is favourable to the party that trades off the Pawn on the flank against the central Pawn. The problem in this case here: The exchange does not materialize since Black's f-Pawn simply moves on one step further, thus transforming that infantry unit into a thorn in White's flesh.
8. ... f5-f4 9.Rh1-f1 g6-g5
Back-up for the Black's outpost on f4.
Still shocked after 8. ... f5, White breaks out of step: Without being forced to do so, 10.c4? ...creates a horrible weakness on d4.
10. ... B*c8-c7 11.B*c1-c2 c6-c5?
Now it is Black's turn to blunder: Does it make any sense to weaken square d5?!
12.B*c2-c3 B*c7-c6 13.b3-b4 Ra8-b8 14.Ra1-b1 b6-b5
15.c4xb5 a6xb5 16.b4xc5 Q*d6xc5 17.Q*e1-f2 Ke8-e7 18.Kd1-c2 B*f8-f7 (diagram)
|White: Rb1 // Rf1 ; Kc2 // Nd2 // Ne2 // Q*f2 ; Pa3 // B*c3 // Pd3 //
B*f3 // Ph3 ; Pe4 // Pg4 ;
Black: Pf4 ; Pb5 // Q*c5 // Pe5 // Pg5 ; Pc6 // Nf6 // Ph6 ; Nd7 // Ke7 // B*f7 ; Rb8 // Rh8
Both White and Black have linked their Rooks. But Black has a slight spatial edge; worse, the position of White King on White's left flank is less secure than the central position of the commander-in-chief of the Black Army.
19.Ne2-c1 B*f7-e6 20.Rf1-e1 Rb8-a8
That reveals the weakness of White's left flank - where, to make things more difficult for Mr. Mendel, the White King has tried to find refuge.
Last-minute-defence for White Pawn a3.
21. ... h6-h5
Encirclement on large scale: Black exploits the absence of heavy armour at White's weakened right flank.
22.Q*f2-e3?!? ... (diagram)
White: Nc1; Re1 // Kc2 // Nd2; Pa3 // Rb3 //B*c3 // Pd3 // Q*e3 // B*f3
// Ph3 ; Pe4 // Pg4 ;
Black: Pf4 ; Pb5 // Q*c5 // Pe5 // Pg5 // Ph5; B*c6 // B*e6 // Nf6 ; Nd7 // Ke7 ; Ra8 // Rh8
22. ... h5xg4 23.h3xg4 f4xe3=Q* 24.Re1xe3 Q*c5-d4
... since that fork by Black Met inflicts a lot of damage.
One goof leads to the next one. It would have been better to move White Rook out of reach from Black Met first - by, say, 25.Re2 ... - , and then cash in at least one Pawn for Thai-"Bishop" by 25. ... Q*xc3 26.Rxc3 ... .
25. ... e5xd4 26.Re3-e1 B*e6-e5 27.Nc1-e2 Nd7-c5!
Now Black's attack on White King will soon become fierce - by trading in Black's Pawn d4 against White's Pawn a3. And Black's tank-force - supported by Black cavalry - breaks through.
28.Rb3-b4 Ra8xa3 29.Ne2xd4 B*e5xd4 30.Rb4xd4 Ra3-a2+ (diagram)
White: Re1 ; Kc2 // Nd2; Pd3 // B*f3; Rd4 // Pe4 // Pg4 ;
Black: Ra2; Pb5 // Nc5 // Pg5 ; B*c6 // Nf6 ; Ke7 ; Rh8
The alternate 31.Kc1? ... leads to: 31. ... Ra1+ 32.Nb1 ... (32.Kc2? Rxe1) 32. ... Nb3+ and 33. ... Nxd4.
31. ... Ra2-a1+ 32.Kd1-e2 Ra1xe1+ 33.Ke2xe1 Rh8-h1+ 34.Ke1-e2 Rh1-h2+ 35.Ke2-e3 ... (diagram)
|White: Nd2; Pd3 // Ke3 // B*f3; Rd4 // Pe4 // Pg4 ;
Black: Rh2; Pb5 // Nc5 // Pg5 ; B*c6 // Nf6 ; Ke7
35. ... Nc5-e6
Black Horse spies on the great square f4.
36.Rd4-b4 Ne6-f4! (diagram)
|White: Nd2; Pd3 // Ke3 // B*f3; Rb4 // Pe4 // Pg4 ;
Black: Rh2; Nf4; Pb5 // Pg5 ; B*c6 // Nf6; Ke7
Let's have one more look at the basic constellation of the "Checkmate of the Arabs" (diagram).
|White: Ka1; Nf6 ; Rh7; Black: Kh8|
Of course not: 37.B*xf4??? g5xf4+ 38.Kxf4 Rxd2 and winning.
37. ... Ke7-e6 38.Rb3-c3 Ke6-d6!
A trap ... (diagram).
|White: Nd2; Rc3 // Pd3 // Ke3 // B*f3; Pe4 // Pg4 ; Black: Rh2; Nf4; Pb5 // Pg5 ; B*c6 // Kd6 // Nf6|
But White is on the alert:
39.Nd2-f1 Rh2-a2 40.Rc3-c1 B*c6-c5!
|White: Rc1 // Nf1; Pd3 // Ke3 // B*f3; Pe4 // Pg4 ;
Black: Ra2; Nf4; Pb5 // B*c5 // Pg5 ; Kd6 // Nf6
41.Nf1-g3 B*c5-b4!?! (diagram)
|White: Rc1 ; Pd3 // Ke3 // B*f3 // Ng3; Pe4 // Pg4 ;
Black: Ra2; B*b4 // Nf4; Pb5 // Pg5 ; Kd6 // Nf6
White declines that offer.
42.Ng3-f5+ Kd6-d7 43.Nf5-d4(??) ...
But now White could have tried 43.Rb1 ... .
43. ... Ra2-a3
Black presses on White Pawn d3 - and Black Horse f4 demonstrates its might and glory.
44.Rc1-d1 B*b4-c5!! (diagram)
|White: Rd1 ; Pd3 // Ke3 // B*f3 ; Nd4 // Pe4 // Pg4 ;
Black: Ra3; Nf4; Pb5 // B*c5 // Pg5 ; Nf6 ; Kd7
Black forces White Horse back to d4 - making complete the encirclement of White King by his own men.
46.Nb5-d4 Rb3-b2! 47.Rd1-c1 ... (diagram)
|White: Rc1 ; Pd3 // Ke3 // B*f3 ; Nd4 // Pe4 // Pg4 ;
Black: Rb2; Nf4; B*c5 // Pg5 ; Nf6 ; Kd7
47. ... Nf6xg4+! 48.B*f3xg4 B*c5xd4+ 49.Ke3-f3! ...
If 49.Kxd4?? ... , then: 49. ... Ne2+ & 50. ... Nxc1, of course.
49. ... Nf4xd3 50.Rc1-g1 Nd3-e5+ 51.Kf3-g3 B*d4-e3! (diagram)
|White: Rg1 ; Kg3 ; Pe4 // B*g4 ;
Black: Rb2; B*e3; Ne5 // Pg5 ; Kd7
52.Rg1-f1 Be3-f4+ (diagram)
|White: Rf1 ; Kg3 ; Pe4 // B*g4 ;
Black: Rb2; B*f4; Ne5 // Pg5 ; Kd7
53.Rf1xf4 g5xf4+ 54.Kg3xf4 Ne5xg4 55.Kf4xg4 Kd7-e6 56. Resigns 0:1
Though the "Checkmate of the Arabs"-constellation has never been executed for real in the foregoing match, just the permanent threat of that knock-out has forced White into the defensive.
The heritage of Shatranj has been preserved in the realm of the King of Siam. It is now up to the historians to further scrutinize that most astonishing finding.
Until then we can only say: AMAZING SHATRANJ - AMAZING THAILAND.
Dr. René Gralla, Hamburg / Germany