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Senterej starting position. Each king is to the right of its ferz (represented by queen).

Senterej (Amharic: ሰንጠረዥ sänṭäräž or Ethiopian chess) is a form of chess traditionally played in Ethiopia and Eritrea, cousin of international Chess and the last survival form of Shatranj. According to Richard Pankhurst, the game became extinct sometime after the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in the 1930s.[1][2] A distinctive feature of Senterej is the opening phase – players make as many moves as they like without regard for how many moves the opponent has made; this continues until the first capture is made. Memorization of opening lines is therefore not a feature of the game.



Broadly, the pieces move the same way as in shatranj; however, there are regional variations.

  • Chess kll45.svgChess kdl44.png Each king (negus) stands just to the right of the centerline from its player's point of view. It moves one step in any direction as a chess king.
  • Chess qll45.svgChess qdl45.svg At the left of the king stands the ferz, moving one square diagonally. (One source says it moves one step in any direction, but may only capture diagonally. There may have been regional variations.)
  • Chess bll45.svgChess bdl44.png On the flanks of the king and ferz stands a piece called the fil or alfil (saba). It leaps diagonally to the second square distant.
  • Chess nll45.svgChess ndl44.png Beside the fils stand the horses (feresenya), moving as chess knights.
  • Chess rll45.svgChess rdl44.png In the corners stand the rooks (der), moving as chess rooks.
  • Chess pll45.svgChess pdl44.png The second rank is filled with pawns (medeq), which move one step forward and capture one square diagonally forward. There is no first move double-step option, and therefore no en passant. A pawn reaching the farthest rank is promoted to ferz (one source says, to the rank of any piece already lost).
a5 b5 c5 d5 e5
a4 b4 c4 d4 e4
a3 b3 c3 d3 e3
a2 b2 c2 d2 e2
a1 b1 c1 d1 e1
Complementarity of the senterej pieces' movements, excluding king and pawn.

The possible movements of the main senterej pieces, excluding that of the king and pawn, may complementary to one another, occupying, without any omission or redundancy, all available squares with regards to a central position inside a 5x5 grid, as shown in the figure to the right.[3]


In Senterej both sides start playing at the same time without waiting for turns. The phase before first capture is called the "mobilization" or "marshalling" phase, or werera. Both players may move their pieces as many times as they like without concern for the number of moves the opponent makes. During this phase the players watch each other's moves, and retract their own and substitute others as they think best. They only start to take turns after the first capture.

The object of the game is to checkmate the opponent. A king denuded of all pieces (excluding pawns) cannot be mated; the game is drawn. A king with only a single piece supporting him (again excluding pawns) can only be mated before that piece has moved seven times, or else the game is drawn.[4]

Game flow[edit]

  1. Start game
  2. Werera (mobilization or marshalling) phase : both players move piece(s) together at every step, until there is any piece captured
  3. First piece captured, Werera ends
  4. Players move pieces by turns, until either:
    1. One side win the game, in case of the opponent's king is being checkmated under the opponent has any pieces of ferz/alfil(s)/horse(s)/rook(s) still alive
    2. Game drawn, in case of the opponent remains king and pawns only (or fits other house rules)
  5. End game


Traditionally, the board is not checkered, merely marked into squares; it is usually a red cloth, marked by strips of black or blue. The play is much more sociable than is usual in Western chess, with all the bystanders (even, formerly, slaves) calling out their notions of useful plays and moving the pieces about to demonstrate. The customs surrounding checkmate are numerous. Dealing the fatal blow with a rook or knight is considered inartistic. Delivering the fatal stroke with a ferz or fil is more respectable; with a combination of pawns, even more praiseworthy.


  1. ^ Pritchard, D. B. (2007). Beasley, John (ed.). The Classified Encyclopedia of Chess Variants. John Beasley. p. 247. ISBN 978-0-9555168-0-1.
  2. ^ Pritchard, D. B. (1994). The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants. Games & Puzzles Publications. p. 104. ISBN 0-9524142-0-1.
  3. ^ Something similar also holds for both modern chess (rook-knight-bishop and knight-queen), as well as Tamerlane chess (general-vizier-elephant-catapult-knight and rook-general-knight-camel-giraffe).
  4. ^ This account of the rules is taken from Murray, H. J. R., A History of Chess, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1913, pp. 362–64.

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