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Theory and Practice of the Shatranj, or Mediaval Game of Chess-Relative Value of the Pieces.-On the Giving of Odds. Of the Five Classes of Chess Players.
I AM now entering on a subject which, I think, has hitherto been very imperfectly understood in Europe, at least in modern times. From the sources of information alluded to in our last chapter, I am enabled to lay before the reader a tolerably correct view of the mode in which Chess was played on this side of the Celestial Empire from the sixth to the sixteenth century of the Christian era. I may further mention that, with regard to the various Oriental MSS. which I have already briefly described, it luckily so happens that what is either omitted or lost, or summarily discussed, in one MS. is treated of more fully in one or all of the others.
The ancient board on which the primæval game of Chaturanga was played had no variety of colours; in fact, a chequered board in that case would have been rather objectionable than otherwise. When the game was modified into the Shatranj, the board, so far as we know, still remained unspotted; although the division into black and white would, in the latter case, have
been a decided improvement.' Hyde (p. 60) gives a drawing of a splendid ivory chess-board presented to him by Daniel Sheldon, Esq., an East India merchant, nearly two centuries ago, on which the squares are, indeed, ornamented, but not of different colours. The oldest representation of a chequered board in the East, that I have yet seen, is in a copy of the Shāhnāma, in the British Museum (No. 18,804, folio 260), transcribed about 150 years ago. It is a picture of the scene where Buzurjmihr is unfolding the mysteries of the game in the presence of Naushirawan and the Indian Ambassador. The Persian sage has a chequered board of sixty-four squares placed before him, with the pieces arranged thereon, and a white spot to the right. However, in none of the MSS. mentioned in our last chapter is there any allusion to the squares being of different colours. In the mediæval game of Europe the board appears to have been coloured in the thirteenth century; for in the Latin poem, sup
While this sheet is under correction, my friend, Mr. Staunton's valuable work, entitled "Chess Praxis," (London, 1860), is just come to hand, from which I subjoin the following very sensible note on the subject of colouring
"The colour of the squares on a Chess Board is not material to the game. The moves, powers, and relative operation of the Men would remain the same if the squares were all of one colour, and were merely described by intersecting lines. Indeed, the practice of colouring the Board is of modern introduction. But the alternation of light and dark in the colour of the squares is of great service in point of convenience. The move of the Bishop is rendered much more easy when the Piece can only glide along squares of the same colour, and the peculiar move of the Knight would be a source not only of additional trouble, but of frequent mistakes, were it not assisted and checked by the invariable change which the Piece makes in the colour of the squares whenever it is played. The same observation applies, though in a less degree, to the other Pieces, and also to the Pawns. The legality of their march and of their capture would be much more liable to violation, and the cause of many more disputes, if both the player and the adversary were not assisted by the alternating colour of the squares, in making and watching the moves."
These apt remarks apply to the mediæval game even more than to that of the present day. In Timur's "Great Chess" as we shall see in our eleventh chapter, one would suppose that a chequered board would be an absolute necessity.
posed to be of that period, given in Hyde (p. 181), we have
Asser quadratus vario colore notatus ;
but in an older poem of the time of the Anglo-Saxons, at least a century earlier, given by the same author, (p. 179), there is nothing said about difference of colours.
The arrangement of the pieces in the Shatranj was exactly the same as our own in the present day, that is -the Kings stood opposite to each other, and so did the Farzins or what we now call Queens. There is a general impression, though erroneous, that on each side the Queen was placed opposite to the adverse King. This however applies only to the modern Asiatic game; but it was not so in the East 300 years ago, as may be seen in the Museum MS. (No. 16,856), dedicated to the Great Mogul of the day. The pieces and Pawns being thus drawn up, the game generally began, as with us, by moving either the King's or Queen's Pawn; with this difference, however, that in the Shatranj the Pawns could move only one' square at the commencement. Real good players, however, in order to save time, played up some ten or twelve moves at once on either side, which they called forming their battle array, of which more hereafter. The King, Rook, and Knight, moved exactly as they do now. The Farzin, or what we call the Queen, moved one square diagonally; consequently, her power slowly extended only over that half of the squares which we should say were of her own colour.
1 There is one exception to this rule of "moving only one square at the beginning," and that is when the parties agreed to play up at once ten or twelve moves on either side, each player being confined to his own half of the board, in which case it was optional to play the Pawn one or two squares. We have shewn in the Chaturanga that the Pawn always moved one square only, and such was the case in the Shatranj in general, as we shall show in our next chapter when we come to treat of the Ta'biyat or "battle array."
The adverse Queen, being on the opposite square at the extremity of the board, was necessarily of a different colour-hence the two Queens could never by any chance encounter one another. That this was the case in Europe, in the twelfth century, we know from a line in the older Latin poem given by Hyde (p. 180):
Nam Regina non valebit impedire alteram.1
The Fil, or Elephant, which we call Bishop, moved two squares diagonally. He attacked and commanded only the square next to him but one; he had no power ove the intermediate square; hence his attack, like that of the Knight, could not be covered or warded off by the intervention of another piece. It will be found, by a slight inspection, that his power extended over only seven squares of the board (one leap of two squares at a time), besides the one on which he originally stood. It will also be found, on examination, that each of the four Bishops had a diocese, or circuit, of eight particular squares for himself, out of which he could never move. It so happened also that the eight squares belonging to any one Bishop never fell within the range of any of the other three; hence a Bishop could never, by any chance, encounter an adverse Bishop, even when running on the
From an expression used in the fourth line of this old poem, one might be led hastily to infer that the Kings and Queens were then placed opposite to each other, as in the modern Asiatic game, viz.:
"Rex paratus ad pugnandum, primum locum teneat ;
The inference, however, would be quite erroneous; for the author speaks of the pieces as viewed by one person from only one side of the board, viz., that on which the Black are drawn up. This is most clearly proved by the line above quoted respecting the Queens, from the same poem; for if the two Queens stood each on the King's right hand, as in the modern Persian game, they would have to run on the same colour, and consequently would be liable to be attacked or impeded by each other.
same colour. Here, again, we can throw light on a line of the older Latin poem in Hyde :
Firmum pactum Calvi tenent, neque sibi noceant.
The precise nature of the moves and powers of the Bishops will be best understood by the aid of the following diagram. Let a and b represent the White Bishops; also c and d the Black Bishops; then it will be seen at once to what particular squares the powers of each extended. For instance a, the White Queen's Bishop could move to K's. 3rd; then to K's. Kt.; then back to K's. 3rd; then to K. Kt. 5; then to K. 7; then to his own 5th; then to Q. R. 7; then back to his own 5th; then to Q. R. 3rd, and thence home. This trip cost him ten moves, and he visited only seven different houses during his journey. A similar rule applies to each of the other Bishops.