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Mir Chess


In Mir Chess the diagonal moving Elephants and Generals of SHATRANJ are replaced by stronger pieces (but not as strong as modern Bishops and Queens). Mir Chess 32 (left diagram) also replaces one Rook on each side with a Cannon. You can use upside down Rooks to represent Cannons when playing this game. Mir Chess 36 (right diagram) keeps all 32 pieces and adds four Cannons to the board. "Mir" is Russian for both "world" and "peace".


    a   b   c   d   e   f   g   h       a   b   c   d   e   f   g   h
  +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
  | r |:n:| e |:g:| k |:e:| n |:c:| 8 | c |:::|   |:g:| k |:::|   |:c:|
  +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
  |:::|   |:::|   |:p:| p |:p:| p | 7 |:p:| r |:n:| e |:e:| n |:r:| p |
  +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
  | p |:p:| p |:p:|   |:::|   |:::| 6 |   |:p:| p |:p:| p |:p:| p |:::|
  +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
  |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   | 5 |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |
  +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
  |   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::| 4 |   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|
  +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
  |:::|   |:::|   |:P:| P |:P:| P | 3 |:::| P |:P:| P |:P:| P |:P:|   |
  +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
  | P |:P:| P |:P:|   |:::|   |:::| 2 | P |:R:| N |:E:| E |:N:| R |:P:|
  +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
  |:C:| N |:E:| K |:G:| E |:N:| R | 1 |:C:|   |:::| G |:K:|   |:::| C |
  +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
    a   b   c   d   e   f   g   h       a   b   c   d   e   f   g   h


The Elephant in Mir Chess is the modern piece popularized by Jean-Louis Cazaux in SHAKO and other games. It combines the moves of the Alfil (diagonal leap two squares) and the Ferz (one square diagonally). This Elephant is called a Dragon in Peter Aronson's 8x8 variant GOTHIC ISLES CHESS. Standing next to the King is the General, combining the moves of the modern Bishop and the Wazir (one square orthogonally). This General (sometimes called a SuperBishop) moves the same way as the Dragon Horse in SHOGI (9X9 Japanese Chess) and the Scirocco in SCIROCCO (Adrian King's 10x10 variant). Pawns move only one square at a time and always promote to a General on the player's eighth rank. Promotion is not limited in any other way, a player may have up to nine Generals on the board. "Mir Chess 36" was the first version to be posted here. The initial setup (right diagram above) was partially inspired by MAKRUK. Most of the Pawns start on the third and sixth ranks. Cannons from XIANGQI (9X10 Chinese Chess) start in the four corners. The Cannon makes the same noncapturing moves as a Rook, but it can only capture by an orthogonal hop over a single screening piece (which may belong to either player). Thus a Cannon can never capture an adjacent piece, while a General threatens capture on all eight adjacent squares. Each side has 18 pieces, with 30 possible first moves. In my ambitious attempt to give the Cannons on the back ranks some freedom of movement, I pushed the two sides very close together in the center. After more playtesting, I decided to examine a variant with fewer pieces and more space between the two sides. The initial setup of "Mir Chess 32" (left diagram above) was inspired by MAKRUK and SITTUYIN. There is complete rotational symmetry - not the mirror symmetry that most players are used to. Each side has 16 pieces, with 20 possible first moves. After 1.Ed3 d5 2.Ef5 Eb7 3.Exh7? Nf6 4.Ef5?? Cxh1, Black holds the White General and Knight in a deadly "Cannon double pin". Attempting to capture the Pawn on h7 in the opening phase of the game is not recommended.


No king's leap or castling rules in this game. As stated above, Pawns never move two squares. Victory conditions are the same as for modern (FIDE) chess. In particular, checkmate is a win and stalemate is a draw. It is not hard to verify that King and General can force mate against a lone King. QUESTION: Can the King and any two different pieces from the following list force mate?

  • Cannon
  • Elephant (on a dark square)
  • Elephant (on a light square)
  • Knight

I agree with Antoine Fourrière's comment (below) that the answer to my QUESTION is probably "yes" for the 8x8 board. Five years ago Dave McCooey wrote me to say that King and Knight and Bishop can force mate on any larger square board, as long as the Bishop can attack some of the corner squares. He ran a computer analysis to check this on the 12x12 board. On a 9x9 board a Bishop can either attack all four corners, or none of them. The case of King and Knight and Elephant on a board as large as 16x16 is another matter. It is not clear to me if these three slow moving pieces can work together to drive the lone King into a corner.

Mir Chess endgame values: P=100, C=250, E=250, N=300, R=500, G=600. Note that in the FAQ a Cannon is stated to be worth half as much as a Rook, and slightly more than the Horse (which is weaker than our Knight). WARNING: I suspect Cannons are worth 350 on this densely packed board at the start of the game and decline in value as pieces are exchanged, down to as low as 150 in the late endgame. You will usually get an opportunity to trade your Cannon for an Elephant at some time in the middle game. I would also estimate Vao=150, Bishop=300, Queen=900 and give a similar WARNING for the Vao.

Chess with Different Armies endgame values: Pawn=100, Woody Rook=275, Short Rook=350, Half-Duck=525, Chancellor=850. Jean-Louis Cazaux and Joe Joyce have made use of the Woody Rook. Greg Strong and I have called Ralph Betza's Half-Duck a "Lion" in several variants. I have been asked if the Mir Chess 36 army is a reasonable opponent for the Remarkable Rookies. The Mir Chess 36 army has a half-Pawn (50) material advantage and a huge lead in development (worth a couple Pawns more). So I am afraid that the Mir Chess 36 army has an unfair advantage here.


In this Mir Chess 32 diagrammed position, White can win with: Elephant - g6, double check and mate. As the red lines indicate: Elephant x Pawn is refuted by ...Rook x Elephant, making both checks disappear. Time to forget the old saying: "Double check can only be met by a King move." Cannons create entirely new tactical possibilties in this game.

I have been trying to design a variant using Chinese Cannons since 1998. Even back then I was looking for a weaker piece to replace the western Queen (Bishop + Rook). This year Joe Joyce came up with MODERN SHATRANJ, with the same Elephants as this game and with "Generals" combining the moves of the Ferz and the Wazir.

Recently David Howe has posted an informative page on AIGO Chess. So I decided to dust off my old notes and finally finish this project.

Computer Play: I am currently working on "mirchess.zrf", running on ZILLIONS OF GAMES, which also includes an optional image set matching the pieces in Daniel C. Macdonald's Omega Chess (with Champions representing Cannons). Joe Joyce was the first player to test my Game Courier Preset, which Fergus Duniho has improved to enforce the rules.

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By David Paulowich.
Web page created: 2005-12-21. Web page last updated: 2005-12-21