Friday, 2 March 2018

Oblong chess

Oblong chess is a chess variety that was also played during medieval times, however not in Europe, but in the Arab world. The game is known under the names Shatranj al-Mustatîla, al-Tawîla (long) or al-Mamdûda (lengthened). This chess variant is mentioned in 947 AD by the Arab historian Al-Masudi his book Muruj adh-dhahab (the meadows of gold). However, the rules therein say that they were derived from another source dating from the 9th century. 

 The most used set-up of  oblong chess: elephant - king - consellor - elephant; 2x knight; 2x rook; 4x pawn; 4x pawn.

Playing the game

Oblong chess is played on a board of 4 by 16 squares, with help of dice, making it the earliest chess game using dice (also Alphonso the Wise (1282 AD) mentions that dice can be used to play chess). Several setups of the game exist, the one shown below the one most used. Oblong chess uses the same rules as Shatranj, i.e. that of medieval chess. A win is by checkmate or by bare king. The game can also be played without dice.

Using dice with oblong chess

A player must move the chess piece that is shown by the dice roll. A roll of 6 moves the King, a 5 the Vizier (queen/counsellor), a 4 the Elephant, a 3 the Knight, a 2 the Rook (chariot) and 1 the Pawn. If the player is unable to move the designated chess piece his turn is lost. A player can also choose not to move a chess piece (after the dice roll), thereby also losing his turn. When the king is checked, the player may only move the king and no other pieces. Hence, he must roll a 6, otherwise (i.e. on a roll of 1-5) his turn is lost and he remains checked.

Six variants of the set-up. The difference between 'a' and 'd' is that in the latter the king faces the opponents counsellor instead of the king.

Making the board

The game board was made from a leftover piece of poplar (from the Daldosa game described in the previous post) in the same manner as the medieval chess board, but without accenting the lines with black. The lines of the squares were carved, the board edges made from oak, and finally the compete board finished with linseed oil.

  • H.J.R. Murray, 1913. A history of chess.  (2012 Reprint Skyhorse Publishing).
  • J.L. Cazaux and R. Knowlton, 2017. A world of chess: its development and variations through centuries and civilizations. McFarland and Company, Jefferson, NC, USA. ISBN 978-0-7864-9427-9.

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