Chess Variations

Xiang Qi

Chinese Chess or Xiang-Qi is a considerably modified form of Shatranj, the first reference of which has been found in a book called 'The Book of Marvels' by Nui Seng-ju who died in 847 AD.

The pieces are simple disks with Chinese characters on them to differentiate and are played on the points of the board rather than within the squares. The un-chequered board consists of 10 x 9 points with two notable distinguishing features. Firstly, dividing the players in the middle is the 'River', an open area. Also, each player has an area of 9 points in the middle at the nearest edge called the 'Fortress'.

  • The General - moves orthogonally one space but cannot move outside the Fortress or such that the opposing general is on the same file with no men between the two.
  • The Mandarins - move one point diagonally only but must stay within the Fortress
  • The Elephants - move two points diagonally but cannot jump over intervening pieces and cannot cross the River.
  •  The Horsemen - move like a knight in Chess but cannot jump over intervening pieces
  • The Chariots - move like a Rook in Chess
  • The Cannons - move any distance orthogonally but can only capture if they have jumped over a single intervening piece (known as the 'Screen')
  • The Soldiers - move one point forwards until they reach the other side of the River whereupon they are allowed to move one point sideways as well. There is no promotion
In Xiang Qi, the concept of Stalemate does not exist. If a player cannot move, that player has lost which serves to remove one of the more tedious aspects found in the European game. It is often quoted that Xiang Qi is the most popular game in the world which is true but this is, of course, largely due to China's great population (European Chess is more ubiquitous but Europeans should not be smug about this either since it has little to do with the qualities of the game and everything to do with European military and political dominance during the latter half of the second millenium AD).


Japanese Chess or Shogi or Sho-gi or "The Generals Game" has a major innovation over other games in the Chess family: Pieces when taken are allowed back onto the board.  This has the advantage of making draws quite unusual and thus, some would say, a more interesting contest.  The pieces are pointed wooden counters with Japanese symbols on them, both players having identical sets, orientation being the method of determining which piece belongs to which player.  The board is unchequered with 9 x 9 squares, 4 small crosses being scribed on the corners of the central nine squares.  These indicate the home territories of each player which are the three rows nearest to the player.

Some of the pieces upon entering enemy territory are 'promoted', if the player wishes, to a superior piece of a rank defined by the rules.   Those pieces that can be promoted are noted in the follow descriptions.
  •  Jewelled King - moves like a King in Chess
  • Gold General - moves one space orthogonally or one space diagonally forwards
  • Silver General - moves one space diagonally or one space forwards. Promotion is to a Gold General.
  • Honourable Horse - two spaces forward and one sideways only. Promotion is to a Gold General.
  • Flying Chariot - like a Rook in Chess. Promotion is to a Dragon King which can move like a Jewelled King OR a Flying Chariot
  • Angle-going - like a bishop in Chess. Promotion is to a Dragon Horse which can move like a Jewelled King OR an Angle-going.
  • Lance - forwards only any distance. Promotion is to a Gold General.
  • Soldiers - one space forwards only. Promotion is to a Gold General.


Sittuyin or Burmese Chess still bears the original horse and elephant pieces.  Both boards and pieces tend to be large and robust.  The game is not thought to be played much in Southern Burma anymore - unfortunately, modern European Chess is taking over.   However, it can still be found in the tea houses of Upper Burma in the North West of the country.  The game itself is unique for a variety of reasons, not least of which the starting position of the pieces which is variable, being at the discretion of the players and consequently providing a whole new element to the game.


Changgi or Korean Chess is similar to Chess in China. The board omits the river of Chinese Chess and some of the moves are slightly different but probably the most significant difference is that players can "pass" their go if they wish. One effect of this is to slightly increase the chances of a draw since when one player is reduced to a lone King, repeated passing forces a drawn game.


Makruk or Thai Chess is presently thriving well in its home country where proponents outnumber those who play European Chess by a huge proportion and the game is a nationally televised attraction. The origin of Makruk is simple "Mac" means game in Thai and "Ruk" comes from the Cambodian "Ruk" or "Ouk" which means chess. Makruk is played in Cambodia as well as Thailand, although this country sports yet another historical variant - Cambodian Chess. The game is related to both the Japanese and Burmese versions of Chess and many people believe that Makruk predates both these other games.

The attractive pieces are shaped like the Stupas or Thai temples that are found throughout Siam, as Thailand used to be called. In the past, pawns were often represented by cowrie shells, mouth down until promotion when they were turned upwards.

Main Chator

Malay chess or Main Chator, is played in Indonesia, Malay islands and peninsula and the Philipines. Main Chator is believed to come from Indian chess but was later heavily influenced by the Dutch. Main Chator now looks a lot like European chess, but there are still many different rules, like the promotion rule which is very complicated.

Raindrop Chess

Raindrop chess was introduced in 2009 in the Netherlands. The game begins with an empty board, the chessmen are waiting on marked areas next to the board. At the start of the game, all squares on the chess board may be occupied freely. White is first to draw a card. The chessman displayed on that card may now be placed anywhere on the board. The players draw a card in turn. Drawn cards are put aside and made into a pile with displayed pictures upwards.

One by one they appear on the board. Raindropchess differentiates between ‘Raindrop moves’ and (ordinary) ‘chess moves’. Chess moves are only permitted when a player’s own King has been placed on the board. That player will hence have a choice: make a raindrop move or a chess move (with a chessman that is already on the board).