The Chess Variant Pages

Atlantean Barroom Shatranj


Atlantis was a city, island, and culture with many facets. The old and new nobility, along with the members of the merchant class with both wealth and aspirations, played Great Shatranj, a sedate, traditional old game. The young people, the intellectuals and artists, and the non-wealthy members of the merchant class played Grand Shatranj. This game is a bit more lively, with longer-range, more powerful pieces and more territory, but still maintaining a strong connection to the older Great Shatranj. It was the lower classes, the drinkers, poets, bards, craftsmen and clerks, sailors and servants, who evolved a game with a little life in it. All around Atlantis, in inns and low dives, Barroom shatranj was played, often with a large and vocal audience and always with gambling, players and onlookers making bets and side-bets on every aspect of the game. Drinking also played a major role, if not always in the quality of the play, then certainly in the quantity of the betting. And some of the pieces learned to move as crookedly as the players who held them were seeing. It was in an inn that the zigzag general was born: two carefully-planned "misunderstandings" by the player who was less drunk turned the jumping general of grand shatranj into a 2-step bent rider and victory over his more drunk opponent. And it was an innkeeper who created the game length limit: "Okay, you two, 50 turns and no more! Then somebody else gets to use the set. You certainly don't drink enough to monopolize it so long..."

This game is taken from "Two Large Shatranj Variants", which contains a complete list of alternate pieces and optional rules. All presets use "Grand Shatranj Alfaerie" piece sets. The Alfaerie piece sets were created by David Howe. The Grand Shatranj piece set includes some new pieces by Joe Joyce, created for Mr. Howe's Alfaerie set.


Atlantean Barroom Shatranj

Click on setup picture for preset.


Jumping king. The royal piece. Moves as the elephant* or dababba*. It may move 1 square or leap 2 squares orthogonally or diagonally.

Zigzag general, a bent 2-step rider. Moves twice as the jumping general*. It may move 1 square or leap 2 squares orthogonally or diagonally, then may do any of the 4 possible move types again. Thus it may move 1, 2, 3, or 4 squares in a turn. It may change directions between its first and second step. Null moves are not allowed.

Minister. Moves like the knight, dababbah, or wazir. It slides 1 or jumps 2 squares orthogonally, or jumps in the standard knight's "L".

High priestess. Moves like the knight, alfil, or ferz. It slides 1 or jumps 2 squares diagonally, or jumps in the standard knight's "L".

Twisted knight, a bent 2-step elephantrider. Moves twice as an alfil or ferz. It slides 1 or jumps 2 squares diagonally, and then may do either again. It too can move 1, 2, 3, or 4 squares in a turn. It may change directions between steps. Null moves are not allowed.

kNight. This is the standard chess knight, jumping 2 squares, one orthogonally and the second diagonally outward.

fleXible knight, a bent 2-step dababbarider. Moves twice as a dabbabah or wazir. It slides 1 or jumps 2 squares orthogonally, then may do either again. It too can move 1, 2, 3 or 4 squares in a turn. It may change directions between steps. Null moves are not allowed.

Pawn. A standard chess pawn, always moving 1 square forward and capturing 1 square diagonally forward. There is no double-step option.

* See "Two Large Shatranj Variants" for complete piece descriptions.


Win by checkmate or by baring the opponent's king without your king immediately being bared by your opponent. Any other outcome is a draw.

Capture is by replacement. A capturing piece must stop on the square of the captured piece.

Pawns may promote on the ninth and must promote on the tenth rank.

Pawns may promote to any lost pieces. If a pawn should find itself on the 10th rank with no lost piece to promote to, it may move, and capture, sideways along the 10th rank, 1 square per turn, either way. When a piece becomes available, the pawn may promote immediately, or it may wait until after it has moved, and possibly captured, one more square along the back rank.

There is no castling. As there is no pawn first move double step, there is no en passant.

The game is ended as a draw after 50 turns, unless it has come to a conclusion before then. All tabs and bets must be paid in full then.


The original shortrange chess game most of us were exposed to was Edgar Rice Burrough's Jetan. I read the John Carter on Mars series about age 10-12 or so, and thought Jetan was a great game idea. While I never consciously thought of Jetan in the design of these games, I have to believe that Jetan planted a seed in my unconscious that grew into part of my thinking about shortrange games in general. In this variant's sister game Lemurian Shatranj in particular, I was lucky to not have re-designed a Jetan piece, especially as they are envisioned by LL Smith. Finally, I would like to thank Mike Nelson and George Duke for pointing out the correspondences between games.


Atlantean Barroom Shatranj is an examination of strong medium-range pieces. The zigzag general is an extremely strong piece; the king was replaced by a royal jumping general to help protect it from this piece. Since it uses such unique and powerful pieces, this game is somewhat experimental. In simple language, I'm not sure if I have a really decent piece mix and placement since I'm using so many new pieces. This game is being playtested with Jeremy Good.

In a question, Fergus Duniho raised the possibility of the double-jumper pieces capturing twice. While I am hesitant to consider the idea, I'm sure the Atlanteans weren't.

After posting a pawn promotion comment on Grand Chess, I received an email from Michael Howe [Nova Chess and others], who has been working on the pawn promotion/movement problem in his work. With permission, I present the relevant body of the text:
[A pawn] 'can move to the back rank even when no previously captured piece is available, and while there it moves like a nonroyal king (commoner). If it moves out of the promotion zone it reverts to pawn. If it moves within the promotion zone it gets another chance to promote. A player can also move into or within the promotion zone and choose the commoner option instead of a piece promotion even if a piece is available: for example, in a situation when a commoner would mate but a cardinal or marshal would not. No in-situ promotion. I think this works better than a sideways-moving pawn because it is more threatening, although I doubt that this situation will come up much'.
Once again, I find myself in a bit of a quandry. While I would never use anything stronger than a commoner, a piece that steps 1 square in any direction, on the back rank, M. Howe's comment states: 'while there it moves like a nonroyal king'. The king in this game steps 1 square, or leaps 2 squares in any direction. Again, I strongly suspect the Atlanteans would use the stronger piece.

Game design by Joe Joyce.

The Destruction of Atlantis

From the General Comments Section:

Atlantean bar...

"2006-03-19 Adrian Alvarez de la Campa Verified as Adrian Alvarez de la Campa None I remember seeing a reference to a game called Atlantean Barroom Shantraj, but now a search turns up no results. Has anyone seen mention of this or did I just dream it up?

2006-03-19 David Paulowich Verified as David Paulowich None A search for *Atlant* on the Game Courier Game Logs will turn up the only game of Atlantean Barroom Shantraj being played here. The term 'Atlantean Shatranj' originated on Joe Joyce's Two Large Shatranj Variants page. My 2006-03-17 comment on the 'Shatranj 2 Chess' thread refers to yet another variant (on an 8x8 board).

2006-03-19 Adrian Alvarez de la Campa Verified as Adrian Alvarez de la Campa None Thanks. The motivation for my inquiry was that I ran across the entry for Atlantis Chess, which made me recall the Game Log for Atlantean Barroom Shantraj and wondering what the results would be like if the two games were combined...

[all messages] [add response] 2006-03-20 Joe Joyce Verified as Joe Joyce None Well, you'd certainly want a large board, so starting at 10x10 is good. Since all the pieces in this game jump (but not [currently] the pawns) the effects of square loss would be effectively reduced. You might even want to let the 'High Priestess' replace (or even add) squares. And if you did that, you might let the 'Minister' destroy squares. Their ranges would logically be any empty squares they could legally move to. They would cancel each other out at squares within the range of both. But letting the Minister destroy occupied squares would swing the game far over to offense, unless, maybe, you allowed the High Priestess to resurrect... Anyway, that the 2 pieces have limited movement (for ABS) is a decent limitation for pieces that can create or destroy squares. The priestess could extend the board; a decent restriction would be that a square surrounded on 3 of 4 sides by emptiness cannot be connected to a square that will have more than 1 side next to emptiness. So bridges would have to be 2 squares wide. This particular application of player power over the board probably pushes well into the shallows of the Rubicon itself. This is terrain in a wargame. But it is true that holes are as good a terrain abstract as squares. How many chess variants have specific pieces that create or destroy the board itself? That destruction of squares could well be going too far, especially since this is not a wormhole variant we're talking about. That would be a different game."

A first pass at this game could be done very simply.


Expand the board to 14x14 and cover all the new squares with checkers.

Allow the Minister to destroy 1 square at the end of any odd-numbered turn.

Allow the High Piestess to create 1 square at the beginning of any even-numbered turn.

No squares may be created or destroyed with a piece on them.

Only Black may start the cycle of creation and destruction, and it must start on an odd-numbered turn. Thereafter, both sides may freely use their powers as desired.

It is possible to play a game where only White can create a square, and only Black can destroy one, but that strikes me as too unbalanced.

Thanks to Adrian and David for this idea. It really needs to be developed.

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By Joe Joyce.
Web page created: 2006-05-01. Web page last updated: 2006-05-01