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Shatranj is the second known variant of chess. It was purportedly developed from the first known variant, Chaturanga, by making a few minor changes. The game first appeared in Persia around the 7th century AD and remained immensely popular throughout the Arabic world for the next nine centuries! Shatranj is said to have supported professional players, spawned several books and inspired its own body of chess problems.


The array is similar to that of Orthodox Chess, with Elephants replacing Bishops and Generals replacing Queens. The game was also played with Generals and Kings transposed; so in all cases, Kings and Generals face their own kind.*

King d1; General e1; Rook a1, h1; Knight b1, g1; Elephant c1, f1; Pawns a2, b2, c2, d2, e2, f2, g2, h2.

King d8; General e8; Rook a8, h8; Knight b8, g8; Elephant c8, f8; Pawns a7, b7, c7, d7, e7, f7, g7, h7.

*The positions for the King and General may also be: White King: e1; White general: d1; Black king: e8; Black general: d8.


Moves as in Orthodox Chess.

Moves as in Orthodox Chess.

Moves as in Orthodox Chess.

Moves as in Orthodox Chess.

Moves to the first diagonal square.

Leaps to the second diagonal square, never occupying the first diagonal.


Historians tell us that Shatranj is the immediate precursor of Orthodox Chess. Perhaps the quickest way to learn Shatranj is to understand how it differs from the Orthodox:
  • The board is not checkered.
  • Elephants replace the Orthodox Bishops. (See array.)
  • Generals replace the Orthodox Queen. (See array.)
  • There is no initial two-step Pawn move.
  • There is no en passant capture option.
  • There is no castling option.
  • Pawns arriving at the last rank always promote to Generals.
  • Stalemate counts as a win.**
  • Bare King counts as a win, provided that your King cannot be bared on the very next move. (See below.)
  • Two bare Kings (see above) count as a draw.

**Pritchard cites a rule variation that is not mentioned by all authors: A stalemated King may be transposed with one of its other pieces, as long as this does not result in check.

Computer Play

  • If you have Zillions of Games installed on your computer, you can play this game. Download file:
  • You can also play Shatranj by email, using the web-based Play by Mail system on this site.
  • The ICC (Internet Chess Club) also offers Shatranj as the game "wild 28".
  • You can play against a Java applet on Ed Friedlander's site.


Chess Problems of 1001 Years ago

Original page written by Hans Bodlaender. Edited by John William Brown for the occasion of Shatranj's selection as Recognized Chess Variant of the Month.
WWW page created: October 23, 1995. Last modified: December 2, 2001.