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A8 black boat
B8 black horse
C8 black nobleman
D8 black seed
E8 black feudal
F8 black nobleman
G8 black horse
H8 black boat
A6 black cell
B6 black cell
C6 black cell
D6 black cell
E6 black cell
F6 black cell
G6 black cell
H6 black cell
A3 white cell
B3 white cell
C3 white cell
D3 white cell
E3 white cell
F3 white cell
G3 white cell
H3 white cell
A1 white boat
B1 white horse
C1 white nobleman
D1 white feudal
E1 white seed
F1 white nobleman
G1 white horse
H1 white boat
Makruk starting position
Years activeUnknown, predates Sittuyin
Setup time< 1 minute
Playing timeFrom 20 minutes to several hours
SkillsStrategy, tactics
SynonymsThai chess

Makruk (Thai: หมากรุก; RTGSmak ruk;[1] pronounced [màːk rúk]), or Thai chess (Thai: หมากรุกไทย; RTGSmak ruk thai; pronounced [màːk rúk tʰaj]), is a strategy board game that is descended from the 6th-century Indian game of chaturanga or a close relative thereof, and is therefore related to chess. It is part of the family of chess variants.[2]

In Cambodia, where basically the same game is played, it is known as ouk (Khmer: អុក, pronounced [ʔok]) or ouk chatrang (Khmer: អុកចត្រង្គ, pronounced [ʔok.caʔ.ˈtrɑŋ]).[3]


The Persian traders came to the Ayutthaya kingdom around the 14th century to spread their culture and to trade with the Thai kingdom. It is therefore possible that the Siamese makruk, in its present form, was directly derived from the Persian game of shatranj via the cultural exchange between the two peoples in this period. This is because the movement of makruk's queen, or the "seed" (Thai: เม็ด), is essentially the same as the ferz in shatranj.[citation needed]

However, it is more likely that the game came more directly from India given the name similarities between chaturanga and the Cambodian name, ouk chaktrang (Khmer: អុកចត្រង្គ), and the way the "nobleman" (Thai: โคน, Khmer: គោល) moves.[4][3] In his History of Chess, Murray suggests it may have followed the expansion of Buddhism in the area.[4]


Makruk pieces
Makruk pieces
English king (1) queen (1) bishop (2) knight (2) rook (2) pawn (8) promoted pawn (queen)
Thai ขุน เม็ด โคน ม้า เรือ เบี้ย เบี้ยหงาย
RTGS khun met khon ma ruea bia bia-ngai
Meaning lord seed nobleman horse boat cowrie shell overturned cowrie shell

In the starting position, pawns are placed on the third and sixth ranks. Queens are placed at the right side of kings.


Makruk set from the early 20th century
Makruk set from the early 19th century, in which the pawns are made from cowrie shells
Makruk set from early Rattanakosin era (late 18th century) with pieces made from albino and black water buffalos' horn
  • The cowrie shell moves one space forward and captures one space diagonally forward. Unlike in Western chess, the pawn cannot advance two squares on its first move; therefore, it cannot be captured en passant. A pawn that reaches the sixth rank is always promoted. It becomes a "promoted pawn" (เบี้ยหงาย bia ngai, in Thai, meaning overturned cowrie shell), which moves one square diagonally in any direction, like the queen. Pawn promotion is usually denoted by flipping the piece over.
  • The seed moves one space diagonally, like the ferz in shatranj. It has the same move as the promoted pawn.
  • The nobleman moves one space diagonally or one space forward, like the silver general in shogi.
  • The horse moves two spaces orthogonally (that is, along a rank or file) and then one space perpendicular to that movement. It jumps over any pieces in the way, like the knight in Western chess.
  • The boat moves any number of spaces orthogonally, like a rook in Western chess.
  • The lord moves one space in any direction, like a king in Western chess. The game ends when the king is checkmated. The game ends as a draw if the king is stalemated, like in Western chess and unlike shatranj.

Counting rules[edit]

Thai men playing makruk

When neither side has any pawns, the game must be completed within a certain number of moves or it is declared a draw. When a piece is captured the count restarts only if it is the last piece of a player in the game.

  • When neither player has any pawns left, mate must be achieved in 64 moves. The disadvantaged player counts, and may at any time choose to stop counting. If the disadvantaged player checkmates the advantage side and did not stop counting, the game is declared a draw.

When the last piece (that is not the king) of the disadvantaged player is captured, the count may be started, or restarted from the aforementioned counting, by the weaker player, and the stronger player now has a maximum number of moves based on the pieces left:

  • If there are two rooks left: 8 moves
  • If there is one rook left: 16 moves
  • If there are no rooks left, but there are two bishops: 22 moves
  • If there are no rooks or bishops left, but there are two knights: 32 moves
  • If there are no rooks left, but there is one bishop: 44 moves
  • If there are no rooks or bishops left, but there is one knight: 64 moves
  • If there are no rooks, bishops or knights left, but only queens: 64 moves

The disadvantaged player announces the counting of his fleeing moves, starting from the number of pieces left on the board, including both kings. The winning player has to checkmate his opponent's king before the maximum number is announced, otherwise the game is declared a draw. During this process, the count may restart if the counting player would like to stop and start counting again.

For example, if White has two rooks and a knight against a lone black king, he has three moves to checkmate his opponent (the given value of 8 minus the total number of pieces, 5). If Black captures a white rook, the count does not automatically restart, unless Black is willing to do so, at his own disadvantage. However, many players do not understand this and restart the counting while fleeing with the king.


There are rules which do not apply to the standard, formal game, or have been abandoned in professional play. They are called sutras. The first free moves are similar to those in Cambodian ouk.

  • Sut Khun สูตรขุน ("King Sutra") can be compared to the castling rule in Western chess. The rule allows the player to move the king to a blank square on next row, like a knight, so long as the king has not yet moved.
  • Sut Met สูตรเม็ด ("Queen Sutra") is the most popular sutra in informal rules. It is a first free move that allows the player to move the queen and the pawn in front of the queen at the same time. Two pieces are moved in this sutra. First, move the pawn in front of the queen forward; then move the queen to the blank square the pawn has just vacated, so the queen moves two squares forward.
  • Sut Ma สูตรม้า ("Knight Sutra") is a first free move that allows the player to move a knight and a pawn a knight's move from that knight in the same turn. Two pieces are moved in this sutra. First, move the pawn which is a knight's move from the knight forward; then move the knight to the blank square the pawn has just vacated.
  • Takhaeng Ruea ตะแคงเรือ ("Boat Tilting, Rook Tilting") involves turning one or both rooks upside down. This changes the rook to be a queen. This reduces the power of one or two rooks.

Cambodian chess[edit]

Cambodian men playing ouk

Cambodia has a variant of chess that was introduced in southeast Asia centuries ago, called ouk (អុក [ʔok])[5] or ouk chaktrang (អុកចត្រង្គ[6] [ʔok.caʔ.ˈtrɑŋ] or [ʔok.cat.ˈtrɑŋ]),[3] with minor differences to the Thai version of chess.[3] In Vietnam, ouk is called cờ ốc, meaning "shell chess", as the shape of the pieces resemble shells.

The main rules difference involves the first movement of the king and queen. If no pieces have been captured, the players have these options:

  1. On the king's first move, and only if not in check, of moving the king like a knight; and
  2. On the queen's first move, of moving the queen two squares straight ahead.[3]
A bas-relief from the Khmer Empire depicting people playing a chess-like game

There is evidence that ouk has been played in Cambodia since the twelfth century, as it is depicted in several reliefs in the Angkor temples.[3]

The first nationwide ouk tournament was held 3–4 April 2008, upon the completion of a standardized rule set by the Olympic Committee of Cambodia and the Cambodian Chess Association.[7]

In a variant known as kar ouk (also known as ka ouk), the first player to put the other in check wins.[5] Another variant of Cambodian chess was described by David Pritchard in the first edition of The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants, but this was later determined to have been included in error as no such game was played in Cambodia.[8]

Ouk is one of three traditional sports introduced by Cambodia at the 2023 Southeast Asian Games, along with the martial arts of Bokator and Kun Khmer.


  1. ^ "หมากรุก". thai-language.com. Retrieved 13 November 2018.
  2. ^ Murray, H. J. R. (1913). A History of Chess (Reissued ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-827403-3.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Ouk Chatrang – Makruk". history.chess.free.fr. Retrieved 2023-06-30.
  4. ^ a b Murray, H. J. R. (1913). "Chapter VI Chess In Further India". A History of Chess (Reissued ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 108. ISBN 0-19-827403-3.
  5. ^ a b "Khmer Institute". www.khmerinstitute.com. Retrieved 2023-02-22.
  6. ^ "ចត្រង្គ (ខ្មែរ ~ English និងសំឡេង)". dict.antkh.com. Retrieved 2022-12-16.
  7. ^ "Cambodia to hold first ever Khmer Chess tournament".
  8. ^ "Cambodian Chess". www.jsbeasley.co.uk. Retrieved 2021-06-16.

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