Tamerlane chess

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Tamerlane chess board and starting setup

Tamerlane chess is a strategy board game related to chess and derived from chaturanga. It was developed in Persia during the reign of Timur (Timur's Chess), also called Tamerlane (1336–1405). Some sources attribute the game's invention to Timur,[1] but this is by no means certain. Because Tamerlane chess is a larger variant of chaturanga, it is also called Shatranj Kamil (Perfect Chess) or Shatranj Al-Kabir (Large Chess or Great Chess), as opposed to ash-shaghir ("Small Chess"). It is distinctive in that there are varieties of pawn, each of which promotes in its own way.


A Tamerlane chessboard is made up of 110 uncheckered squares arranged in a 10×11 pattern ("camp"). Additional squares, known as citadels, protrude from the left side on the ninth row and from the right side on the second row, making a total of 112 squares.[1][2] When the opposing king occupies a player's citadel, the game is declared a draw. No piece other than a king may occupy a citadel.

There are several ways for an opening setup to be arranged. A common one is as follows:

  • White's side (bottom row, from the left): elephant, (space), camel, (space), war machine, (space), war machine, (space), camel, (space), elephant.
  • Second row (from the left): rook, knight, picket, giraffe, general, king, vizir, giraffe, picket, knight, rook.
  • Third row (from the left): pawn of pawns, pawn of war engines, pawn of camels, pawn of elephants, pawn of generals, pawn of kings, pawn of vizirs, pawn of giraffes, pawn of pickets, pawn of knights, pawn of rooks.

Black's side mirrors White's.


Anglicised versions of piece names are used here.

  • king – Moves as a traditional king
  • general – Moves one square diagonally
  • vizir (vizier/governor) – Moves one square horizontally or vertically
  • giraffe (zurafa) – Moves one square diagonally and then a minimum of three squares horizontally or vertically (a restricted gryphon)
  • picket (tali'a)[3] – Moves as a bishop in traditional chess, but must move a minimum of two squares
  • knight – Moves as a knight in traditional chess
  • rook (rukh) – Moves as a rook in traditional chess
  • elephant – Moves two squares diagonally and is unobstructed by pieces in between
  • camel (jamal/shutur) – Moves one diagonally and two straight, unobstructed by pieces in between
  • war engine (dabbaba) – Moves two horizontally or vertically, unobstructed by pieces in between
  • pawns – Move as pawns in traditional chess, but with no initial double move or en passant capture. Every piece (including the pawn) has a corresponding pawn. Hence; pawn of kings, pawn of vizirs, pawn of giraffes, etc.



Upon reaching the last rank on the board, a pawn is promoted to its corresponding piece. Thus, Pawn of Giraffes becomes a Giraffe, etc. Exceptions to this are the Pawn of Kings and Pawn of Pawns. A Pawn of Kings becomes a Prince, which must be mated or taken along with the King before the opponent can win. It moves as a king. (This idea of allowing multiple kings on each side through promotion was coincidentally also invented about a century earlier in Japan in the game of dai shogi.)

When the Pawn of Pawns reaches the last rank, it stays there and cannot be taken. As soon as a situation develops where the opponent cannot escape losing a piece to a pawn, or where a pawn may attack two opposing units at the same time, the player must move his/her pawn to that location. Upon the second promotion of this pawn, it moves to the starting point of the Pawn of Kings. Upon the third promotion it becomes an adventitious king, which acts as a prince.


When multiple kings are held, they may be captured as normal pieces. When only one king remains it must be checkmated. Once during the game a player may exchange a checked king for another non-royal piece. A player may move into check if he holds multiple kings. The adventitious king is the only piece that may move into a player's own citadel. This is often done to prevent the opponent from entering.


  1. ^ a b Cazaux, Jean-Louis and Knowlton, Rick (2017). A World of Chess, p.31. McFarland. ISBN 9780786494279. "Often known as Tamerlane chess, [its invention] is traditionally attributed to the conqueror himself."
  2. ^ Falkener, Edward (1892). Games Ancient and Oriental, p.. Longmans, Green and Company. [ISBN unspecified].
  3. ^ Cazaux and Knowlton (2017), p.360, n.21. "Tali'a means scout, vanguard, outpost, picket, advanced post, spy, a group of soldiers or troops placed on a line forward of a position to warn against an enemy advance."

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