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This item is a game information page
It belongs to categories: Orthodox chess, 
It was last modified on: 2001-01-04
 Author: Hans L. Bodlaender. Grande Acedrex. A large variant from 13th century Europe. (12x12, Cells: 144) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
H. G. Muller wrote on 2016-09-26 UTC

Because the true rules differ so much from what is described above, I figured the article deserves to have an extra diagram with piece moves:

files=12 ranks=12 startShade=#FFCC00 maxPromote=0 promoChoice=CRLUGA graphicsDir=http://hgm.nubati.net/variants/utrecht/ squareSize=35 whitePrefix=w blackPrefix=b graphicsType=png symmetry=none pawn::fmWfcF::a4,b4,c4,d4,e4,f4,g4,h4,i4,j4,k4,l4,,a9,b9,c9,d9,e9,f9,g9,h9,i9,j9,k9,l9 giraffe::Z::d1,i1,,d12,i12 crocodile::B::e1,h1,,e12,h12 lion::HC::b1,k1,,b12,k12 rook::::a1,l1,,a12,l12 unicorn::ypafsW::c1,j1,,c12,j12 griffon::FyafsF:griffon:g1,,g12 king::KiAiD::f1,,f12

Click on names below to see how the piece moves.

  • Pawn
  • Giraffe
  • Crocodile
  • Lion
  • Rook
  • Unicorn (Rhino)
  • Griffon
  • King (dark yellow = initial move only)

[Edit] Because this variant lacks promotion choice, but makes the promotion piece dependent on location, the standard promotion procedure was suppressed by defining maxPromote=0 (i.e. no promoting pieces). A JavaScript function WeirdPromotion was then defined in the HTML, in addition to the diagram description. The diagram standard script calls this function when present, to tell it what piece type to put on the to-square.

The provided function tests if the moved piece was a Pawn that reached last rank. If so, it specifies a piece type dependent on the promotion file.


H. G. Muller wrote on 2016-01-04 UTC
I just had an e-mail conversation with Jean-Louis Cazaux, and it seems we are in complete agreement. He has always been of the opinion that a Griffon could move to the F squares, and he had already come around to the interpretation of the Rhino description that 'forward' should be interpreted as 'in the same direction as the previous leg', and not absolutely. He just had not updated his website yet. <p> This rule revision really makes Grande Acedrex a very interesting game. Considering its historic significance it is really a scandal that it is not one of the standard variants of Win/XBoard. But perhaps Sjaak II can play it as engine-defined variant.

George Duke wrote on 2016-01-04 UTC
There are 8 piece-types, and H.G. finds five to be the same from Bodlaender's rendering of Murray and Cazaux's examination of the original text. They are King, Pawn, Crocodile, Rook, and Gryphon. <p> The other three are Giraffe, Lion and Unicorn. It certainly makes Lion a better leaper if allowing (3,1) camel added to (3,0). And Giraffe is about the same value whether leaper of (2,3) zebra instead of (1,4). Some confusion comes about in mediaeval texts regarding whether the starting square counts in move descriptions. Murray points that out himself, and here that's how we may get 2,3 instead of 1,4 under further scrutiny. <p> Something remarkable comes about from Muller's speculation that probably Gryphon is meant to be permitted the Ferz stop. It does make sense as the basic mode of movement of Gryphon because otherwise it could be blocked there. In other words, Gryphon can either capture or be blocked at Ferz spot, and capturing is the better and simpler mode, or then too being allowed to stop there in one-step when the square is vacant -- if no old writing contradicts it. <p> Then towards the remarkable re-interpretation, there is the Unicorn/Rhino as making Knight leap not on first move but in first leg of any move! By the same logic as Gryphon stopping at Ferz square, this Unicron/Rhino can stop at Knight square. So in fact in Grande Acedrez we have Rook, Knight and Bishop! Bishop is Crocodile, Unicorn is Knight (+ optional one-directional diagonal continuation), and perennial Rook orthogonally, giving the 3 themselves RNB 200 years before the now primitive OrthoChess 64 is born. And it fits the Stanley Random, of all things, reduction of Chess from larger ancient form.

H. G. Muller wrote on 2016-01-01 UTC
It might be good to mention the revised rules here. Jean-Louis Cazaux makes a very strong case, based on scrutinizing the original old Spanish text source. He arrives by this at rules that make much more sense than those presented here (whech were based, directly or indirectly, on Murray's work). The latter makes the Lion a virtually worthless piece, assigns impractically large leaps to most of the pieces, have two piece types move the same (as B) for most of the game, assigning a pretty point-less initial move to one of them... <p> The moves according to Jean-Louis are: <ul><li> King: King, or initial Alfil / Dababba </li><li> Griffon: Ferz followed by outward Rook slide </li><li> Unicorn (Rhino): Knight jump optionally followed by forward (not outward!) diagonal slide away from the starting file </li><li> Lion: jump 3 orthogonally, or (3,1) like Camel </li><li> Rook: modern Rook </li><li> Crocodile: modern Bishop </li><li> Giraffe: jump (3,2) like Zebra </li><li> Pawn: Sjatranj Pawn, promotes on 12th rank to piece that started there. </li></ul> I want to add some comments on this, however: <p> I do not understand the origin of the idea that the Griffon could not move to the (Betza) F squares. The text seems to stress that a Griffon on black cannot move to the four adjacent <i>white</i> squares, and vice versa. But the squares of opposite color are W squares, not F squares! I consider this very strong evidence that the Griffon could actually move like Ferz, as otherwise this complex mentioning of colors would just be a waste of ink, and the author would simply have written "a Griffon cannot go to any adjacent square". <p> As to the Rhino I have my doubt where this interpretation comes from that only one of the two diagonal slides could be used after the Knight jump. The quoted text seems to state that the Rhino cannot turn back after its Knight jump, but 'back' could have very well have meant "make a sharp turn to move towards its origin". The description suggests the move was inspired by the perceived behavior of a Rhino in real-life, and making sharp turns (as you would get on a backward Knight jump followed by a forward diagonal slide) would certainly not be amongst those. The only reason I can see for not allowing the Knight jump to continue in two directions is that it would make the piece too strong.

H. G. Muller wrote on 2015-12-31 UTC
> <i>... but Queen apparently not til about 1480, so a great piece like Gryphon precedes Queen by two hundred years. </i> <p> Note that a Queen already belonged to the array of Chu Shogi long before that (referred to as 'Free King'). <p> It is interesting to speculate how all the familiar sliders found their way into Shogi. The oldest known form of Shogi is Heian Shogi, and rather than adding sliders, it even did away with the Rook in favor of the irreversibly moving Lance (fR). Heian Dai Shogi (on 13x13) did feature two Bishops in its array (with the usual promotion to Dragon Horse), a Reverse Chariot (vR) and a horizontal mover (sRfW), but still no Rooks. And a few hundred years later, in (15x15) Dai and (12x12) Chu Shogi, they were suddenly all there, and even the 9x9 Sho Shogi adopted B and R.

George Duke wrote on 2015-12-29 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
This game page is twenty years old and Grande Acedrex itself over 700 years. Bishop, or crocodile, was around already in Courier Chess, but Queen apparently not til about 1480, so a great piece like Gryphon precedes Queen by two hundred years. <p> This Unicorn moves as Bishop only after first move as Knight. <p> Better than 17th c. Carrera's with awkward Knight compounds, and better than all the 18th c. Turkish chesses, Grande Acedrex here happens to have been commented only for a year in 2008, not at all the first 13 years or last 6 years. Gryphon and Rook are the strong pieces, the former of most value, and the interactions of all very diverse p-ts would be dramatic.

Sam Trenholme wrote on 2009-10-21 UTC
A suggestion, George: your comments would be more helpful if you added links to variants you mentioned, like saying something to the effect of “Eric Greenwood’s Renniassance Chess, whose rules are at http://www.chessvariants.org/large.dir/renaiss.html”.

Also, it’s rather arrogant to take your dislike and Winther’s dislike of Capa variants and conclude from that that all modern chess variant inventors dislike these variants. Do you have evidence to back up your claim that these variants are uniformly disliked? If these variants were so disliked by modern inventors, why are there so many of these different opening setups using these pieces and board out there to play?

I wonder how strong this dislike of Capa really is with you. After all, Winther has made more than one Zillions preset that can play Capablanca chess, and I remember a couple of enjoyable games of Schoolbook chess with you.


George Duke wrote on 2009-10-21 UTC
Granted ''next chesses'' are bound to be connected to plural forms, the way Brainking has 40 or 50 CVs, a reasonable number for individuals to be interested to master play. Left out of discussion is that the original Gryphon from over 700 years ago has thrown off a family of cousins. For example, 1970s Renaissance Chess (not the way he deliberately misspells it) Duke and Cavalier. These Bent Riders are very slightly better than bifurcators, of which only half a dozen precede Winther. There is some overlap, so that well-chosen bifurcators could be in some worthwhile CVs and Bent Riders in others. They need to be studied by computers to find which ones are the better embodiments. Then we can junk Centaur and Champion for all except rank beginners at first in unfamilar terrain. This Gryphon is a great idea. Should she instead be excluded from that first step, or the other way around should it be expanded to orthogonal as well (like Eric Greenwood)? Just linked by Knappen, Rhino is a little off-center from the main line of this family of piece-types with roots in anciency.

John Smith wrote on 2008-12-30 UTC
I suggest the following pieces: Gryphon - Moves as jumping Moa, but may continue orthogonally in the same direction. Crocodile - Moves as Bishop. Giraffe - Moves as Bison. Unicorn - Moves as jumping Mao, but may continue diagonally in the same direction. Lion - Moves as Alibaba. Rook - Moves as Rook.

Yu Ren Dong wrote on 2008-09-20 UTC
http://filer.case.edu/org/cwrums/games/shatrank-al-kabir.html Shatrank al-Kabir is similar to Grande Acedrex. This coincidence is surprising for me. I think their relation is set membership. But the move of al-Kabir Rhinoceros seems a mistake.

Yu Ren Dong wrote on 2008-07-04 UTCGood ★★★★
http://history.chess.free.fr/zip/grantacedrex.zip This file proposes this reconstructed version as well as Murray's or other rules as variants.

Dandolo wrote on 2008-07-04 UTCGood ★★★★
The lion which could only move 3 steps orthogonally is too weak to identify itself with other pieces into war. From Jean-Louis Cazaux' opinion, this lion moves 3 steps orthogonally or 2 steps orthogonally followed by 1 diagonal step. I think the latter would be more credible.

Quintucket (Luke) wrote on 2006-02-13 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
Just found this one.

Getting used to the pieces takes awhile, but it was great fun even before I was able to recall what all the pieces do.


John Ayer wrote on 2005-09-17 UTC
I have read the translation linked in Eduard Navratil's comment, and it appears that there is no difference between the unicorn's (rhino's) first move and its later ones. It makes a knight's leap, and may rest at that point or continue diagonally away from its square of origin. Otherwise put, it leaps over the first square orthogonally, and from that square moves one or more squares diagonally.

As for the lion, the manuscript usually follows the medieval convention of counting a piece's square of origin in describing its move, so I think we have a leap to the second square orthogonally: what we usually call a dabbabah.

And the king and the aanca are on the wrong files. I wish some qualified editor (which I regrettably am not) would correct these various errors.


Sonja Musser wrote on 2005-09-17 UTCGood ★★★★
From fol. 82v of Alfonso X's _Book of Games_, rotating the board 90 degrees clockwise so that white is at bottom and a light-colored square is at bottom right, the opening array of grant acedrex is as follows: a-file rooks, b-file lions, c-file unicorns (rhinos), d-file giraffes, e-file crocodiles, f-file aancas, g-file kings, h-file crocs, i-file giraffes, j-file rhinos, k-file lions, l-file rooks. I believe Hans has the aanca and king reversed; it should be 'aanca on its color'.

George Duke wrote on 2005-02-27 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
'GHI,LargeCV': Eight piece-types. Gryphon is Arabian mythological 'bird so big it can lift elephants'. Lion is modern Trebuchet(0,3). Alfonso manuscript(1283) pre-dates Chaucer by about 100 yrs. and also widespread introduction of gunpowder into Europe from works of Arabs, who had learned it from the Chinese. Concurrently Alhazen's 'Optics' was translated into Latin and reached Europe in 1270. Gryphon starts one diagonal and can proceed Rookwise outwardly. Unicorn is Knight one move, then Bishop thereafter. Giraffe(1,4); Crocodile as Bishop; Rook; King mediaeval with initial leap option. Promotion to file piece as in Chaturanga. Chessically, Grande Acedrex precedes Timur's Great Chess(11x10), also called Tamerlane Chess(Timur the Lame). Timur's 'Giraffe' differs from G.A.'s Giraffe. In historical timeline, the three markers (gunpowder, Chaucer, and Timur's Chess) come within the century after invention of Grande Acedrex.

Charles Gilman wrote on 2004-04-10 UTC
The link in Eduard Navratil's comment makes interesting reading. The accurate portraits (visual and written) of the quadrupeds suggests that they were very far from being seen as mythical. The idea of the Gryphon being a Roc ties in even more strongly than Gryphon with the bird sense of Rook. It is notable that at least one modern variant inventor has interpreted the move of the Rhinoceros (here called Unicorn) as described on the link (two wrongs do occasionally make a right). I am not sure that I have quite understood the Lion's move as described there.

Eduard Navratil wrote on 2004-04-08 UTC
These quarrels about where should the king be placed seem quite unimportant to me: In translation of whole Alfonso's book by Sonja Musset Golladay (<a href='http://www.u.arizona.edu/~smusser/ljtranslation.html'>here</a> it is), quite different rules for lion and unicorn(rhino) can be found.

James Paluskievicz wrote on 2003-12-14 UTCGood ★★★★
My apologies, you are quite right. In the cantigas, both Kings are on the G-file, but the drawing on the website has them on the F-file. I mispoke when I mentioned that the kings needed to be on the H-file.

John Ayer wrote on 2003-12-03 UTC
I have scrutinized the late-medieval painting on this page (the enlarged image, that is)and it clearly shows the king and griffin on the central files, and crocodiles on e and h.

James Paluskievicz wrote on 2003-12-01 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
I have enjoyed the information on your website, however, I noticed that you placed both King on the G-file. From what I could see in the Cantigas, The Kings should go on the H-file instead. Otherwise, the information looked very good. Thank you for the information.

John Ayer wrote on 2003-09-08 UTC
The piece on the g-file appears in the original as Aanca, rendered by both Murray and Gollon as Gryphon.

Charles Gilman wrote on 2003-03-23 UTCGood ★★★★
The promotion rule is an interesting one, and would make for variety as a minor variation to stanadrd Chess and any number of other variants (although it would not suit Shogi). I notice that each lion is limited to just a ninth of the squares - a smaller proportion than the elephants in Chaturanga! Furthermore lions of the same colour are confined to the same group of squares, like Xiang Xi elephants. Was the king's partner in this game really called 'Griffion', suggesting a trisyllabic pronunciation? The correct spellings for that creature are Griffin and Gryphon, the latter favoured by Lewis Carroll (whose characters also included a mangy-looking Lion and a dandyish Unicorn).

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