Chess variants 14th/15th century

I think it wise to know about chess in 14th/15th century, cause there are some reasons to assume, that chess had a role in the invention of Tarot. So I start to collect a little bit ...

Tamerlane or Tibur ...


... was a successful ruler in ...


... and he reigned from 1370–1405 (living 8 April 1336 – 18 February 1405), in other words, in the period, when playing card found larger distribution in Europe. He was not of very high birth, but a successful conquerer, best seen by his successful war against the Golden Horde ...

... In 1402/1403 there has survived evidence of contact between Timur and the French crown

* July 30, 1402, letter from Timur to Charles VI, king of France, suggesting him to send traders to the Orient. It was written in Persian.
* May 1403 letter. This is a Latin transcription of a letter from Timur to Charles VI, and another from Amiza Miranchah, his son, to the Christian princes, announcing their victory over Bayezid, in Smyrna.

Timur saved Constantinople then against the Osmans, furious about Venetians and Genuese, who saved a great part of the Osmanic army with their ships (!). Around 1405 Timur was on his way to attack Ming-China, but his attempt met a very strong winter and Timur died during the enterprise.

His descendants, the Timuriden-dynasty, ruled the region till 1505, when they were overcome by hostile Usbeken. A branch of the family had then extended to India, which they ruled a long time.



Timur had a specific favor and this had been chess, not the usual "small chess" as the chess played in Europe, but a larger chess played on a board with totally 112 fields and 56 figures, 28 for each side.


Remarkable are the two extra fields, left and right, adding to the number of fields from 11x10 = 110 to a 112, which is precisely the double of the number of figures (56), as it is also done in the common European chess (2x16=32 figures versus 8x8=64 fields). They are called "citadels" ... and "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." (the idea of citadels appears also in other older variants).

So a secret chance of escape, when the war on the board doesn't run well - a possibility to "fool" the opponent.
Well, and for Tarot and Chess, please count ... 56 small arcana, that's the number of the figures on the board. And there are 10 rows and 11 columns (this is a 21) and we count the 2 citadels as an extra field-category, then we a "fooling" 22.
And if you count the type of participating figures, there are 10 officers and 11 different pawns, as in this game the pawns have individual function, so again we have 10+11=21.

"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."

* King - Moves as a traditional King
* General - Moves one square diagonally
* Vizir - Moves one square horizontally or vertically
* Giraffe - Moves one square diagonally and then a minimum of three squares horizontally or vertically
* Picket - Moves as a Bishop in traditional chess, but must move a minimum of two squares
* Knight - Moves as a knight in traditional chess
* Rook - Moves as a rook in traditional chess
* Elephant - Moves two squares diagonally and is unobstructed by pieces in between
* Camel - Moves two diagonally and two straight, unobstructed by pieces in between
* War Engine - 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.

(row from left to right - but I've seen contradictions)
Pawn of the Elephants Promotes to Elephant
Pawn of the General Promotes to General
Pawn of the King Promotes to King (Prince)
Pawn of the Pickets Promotes to Picket
Pawn of the Rooks Promotes to Rook
Pawn of the War Engines Promotes to War Engine
Pawn of the Knights Promotes to Knight
Pawn of the Camels Promotes to Camel
Pawn of the Vizier Promotes to Vizier
Pawn of the Giraffes Promotes to Giraffe
Pawn of the Pawns Promotes special

Very interesting are the rules for "Pawn of the King" and for the "Pawn of the pawns"

with a online computer player, against whom you can play the game ... it plays bad, but one learns to distinguish the figures
with other variants

Re: Chess variants 14th/15th century

An additional Tamerlane chess version is given at ... ... earab.html
In Pritchard's Encyclopedia of Chess Variants, he writes about a version of Tamerlane Chess with more pieces. This version is often attributed to the copyist of Timur's biographer, Arabshah. However, there are reasons to believe that Arabshah lived at about one century or perhaps more earlier than when the diagram of this version was made. The version differs mainly from Tamerlane chess in that several squares, empty in the most common setup of Tamerlane chess, are filled in this setup. Some new pieces are in this game: lions, bulls, and a sentinel. Unfortunately, the movement of these pieces is unknown, so it is not possible to play this game with the original rules.
The board size is the same, the number of figures is raised to 36, so totally 24 (sorry, later corrected) ... ähem 27 different figures.


From the manuscript

Re: Chess variants 14th/15th century

Four seasons chess


This game is known from the chess book of Alfonso the Wise of Spain, late 13th century.
see chapter "four seasons"

It's assumed, that a specific note at the English court of late 13th century refers to the same game ... occasionally it was assumed, that this rather early document referred to playing cards. It should be remarked, that this game (if played in partnership 2 against 2) could be played with the same board and the same figures, just declaring the Queen to a second King. ... us&f=false

Re: Chess variants 14th/15th century

A "Great game of chess" is given at some pages in Alfonso's chess book (late 13th century). It's played on a 12x12 grid and knows 8 different figures.

"The game of Great Chess that was made in India after the manner of how the Old Kings used to make their armies of knights and pawns and stand them in ranks to show their power and so that their enemies would fear them."

King: "can jump to the third orthogonal or diagonal square like a Queen [on his/her first move] or to the first orthogonal or
diagonal square, he captures, is shielded and is safe from check unless there is another piece in between."

Aanca (The mythical bird the Rok), Its jumping movement is such that if it is on a black square, it will go to the next black diagonal square like a Queen and then as much as it likes in a straight line. Likewise if it is on white. If it is on black then it cannot go to the four white squares surrounding it. Likewise if it is (starts) on white. it cannot move to the four surrounding black squares.

Crocodile: It moves diagonally to either the first square or as far as it likes [like the modern Bishop]. If it begins on a blacks square, it plays only on black and cannot enter a white square. The one on a white square cannot play on black.

Giraffe: Before it begins to run it gives a sideways jump and so does its piece in this chess. It moves to the fourth square to its side [counting the starting square] so that when it moves from a white square it goes to black and when it leaves a black square it goes to white. The other Giraffe on the other side moves the same.

Rhinoceros: "First it moves like a Knight and then diagonally like a Crocodile as far as it wants or until it captures. It can never move backwards, only always forwards."

Lion: A "very strong beast that jumps a lot backwards or forwards, more than any other beast when it wants to capture something. And so its piece jumps to the fourth square ahead or the second behind."

Rook: is like the ranks of soldiers and it plays like the Rook in the other chess

Pawns: "play as We described before. When a pawn is promoted in this chess it then moves like the piece in whose square it was promoted. If it is promoted in the King's square, it becomes another Aanca. Pawns are set up on the fourth row.

"Because this Great Chess is very slow and long to play, We, King Alfonso, ordered dice to be made to speed its play and which show their hierarchy by the pips on the dice.

The dice are made in this way: they have eight triangular sides because they could not be made in another way for this game. Even though the triangle has an odd number of sides it has to fall flat side down; if it had an even number of sides it would fall on its edge. And so these dice were made with eight sides for the eight types of pieces."
Further details to this game offers this page:

Re: Chess variants 14th/15th century

Courier chess

Played on a board with 8x12 fields with 24 figures for each side ... very old.

... appears at this image of Lucas van Leyden (ca 1508 - 10), and it's (probably) from the circle around Margarethe von Austria, which also is responsible for the "divination with cards" (probably a wrong description) picture, which recently had been a topic to Mary.


Wirnt von Gravenberg, writing early in the thirteenth century, mentioned the Courier Game in his poem Wigalois, and expected his readers to know what he was talking about. Heinrich von Beringen, about a hundred years later, mentioned the introduction of the couriers as an improvement in chess. Kunrat von Ammenhausen, still in the first half of the fourteenth century, told how he had once in Constance seen a game with sixteen more men than in the "right chess": each side having a trull, two couriers, a counsellor, and four extra pawns. He added that he had never seen the game anywhere else, in Provence, France, or Kurwalhen
1202 Wirnt von Gravenberg mentions courier chess in his Arthurian romance, Wigalois.

1300 Heinrich von Beringen mentions the courier game as an improvement on chess, in his great chess poem, Schachbuch.

1337 Kunrat von Ammenhausen describes a detailed account of courier chess in Constance (at the south-west corner of Germany, bordering Switzerland).

1497 The first known publication of the rules of modern chess: Repeticion de Amoresy Arte de Ajedrez by Luis Ramirez de Lucena, in Spain.

Chess Collectors Message 1508 Lucas van Leyden, at 14 years old, paints his famous portrayal of courier chess, which later finds its way to the Royal Museum of Berlin.

1616 Gustav Selenus witnesses courier chess in Ströbeck, Germany. He describes the rules of play in his Das Schack- oder König-Spiel (“Chess- or King-Game”). He also provides a sketch of elaborate figurative pieces (below).

1651 On May 13th, The village of Ströbeck, Germany is presented with a courier chess board and silver courier chess pieces by the Elector-Prince Frederick William of Brandenburg. The board remains in Ströbeck; the silver pieces are long gone.

1661 Jan de Bray, classic Dutch Artist in Haarlem, Netherlands, sketches a young man (possibly a self-portrait), sitting with chessmen strewn on a courier chess board (top of this page). Certain pieces, especially the pawns, show a strong resemblance to the pieces in van Leyden's painting of 1508.

1821 H. G. Albers from Lüneburg writes that courier chess is played in the Ströbeck area.

1825 Visitors to Ströbeck report that the game of courier chess has been forgotten there, the last place it was known to be played.

Jan de Braÿ, Haarlem, Netherlands, 1661

I searched for the passage in the Wigalois and didn't find it.

Very much versions ... riants.pdf
existing much played versions, not too much details about the age of the game

Interesting Links:


British Chess Variants Society Magazine contents

... strongly connected to the work of David Pritchard ... _writer%29
... author of an encyclopedia of Chess Variants

Re: Chess variants 14th/15th century

mmfilesi wrote:This is an importan poem. The first time that the queen is the queen (for influence of Isabel la católica).
Thanks ... yes, this is an important text in the question, especially as it is one of three (which I know), which engage to use Greek gods mythology in combination with chess.

Another one has an English translation:
Marco Gerolamo Vida:
begin 16th century, chess poem with gods, Mercury against Apollo ... q=&f=false

Of special interest, as the games placed elephants as rooks (usually they're positioned at the bishop's place) and this is in Italy. The bishop place is used for archers.

"And many an Indian Elephant appears, each on his back a frowning castle bears"
"To flank both armies to the Tow'rs belong, Each by an Elephant is born along."
in the poem line 40 - 70

Do you know, by which way Queen Isabelle is involved in the change of the Queen function? Is this directly said in the text, or is it only concluded from the later development?

btw. the game of the Isabella text is given here and criticized as rather "simple-minded" by commentators ... =2#reply28

Re: Chess variants 14th/15th century

So I've here still some fragments of my collection work:

Shatranj versions

presented at

Shatranj is seen as the original version of chess. It has variants and some are very old.

Since its early days, Shatranj got several variants. Several should have known some success as they are evoked in different sources. They were described in the above mentioned manuscripts. In addition, two writers paid a special attention to those variants:

The historian al-Mas'ûdî (dead in 956) composed the Murûj adh-dhahab (The Meadows of gold). Among other things, this text described five variants: Oblong Chess (al-Mustatîla), Decimal Chess (at-Tâmma, complete Chess), Circular Chess (ar-Rûmîya, Byzantine Chess), Astronomical Chess (al-Falakîya, Celestial Chess) and Limb Chess (al-Jawârhîya).

Much later, the Nafâ'is al-funûn (Treasury of the sciences), a Persian encyclopedia from Mahmud al-Âmulî (died 1352) described five historical chess variants: 1) Shatranj at-Tawila, oblong chess, 2) Shatranj al-Mudawara, Circular Chess, 3) an astronomical game as in Alfonso's, 4) Shatranj al-Husûn, "Citadel" Chess, 5) Shatranj al-Kabîr, Great Chess later known as Timur Chess.
It seems, that the Timur Chess means the Tamerlane Chess ... and it existed, before Tamerlane became a powerful man.

Shatranj al-Mustatîla or Oblong Chess

Same figures, variated board (4x16), played occasionally with dice, with different start positions (existed already in 9th century)


Citadel chess, Shatranj al-Husûn


10x10 board with 4 citadels (which also appear in Tamerlane Chess). Additional figures are the two war machines, the number of pawns is increased to 10.

The page
knows an alternative base position of the figures at the board with the war machines in the corner


The war machines function as a modern bishop - as in Courier chess. Probably long before the Spanish invention of modern chess (around 1470).

The game is mentioned 1352. A similar version, Shatranj at-Tâmma or "complete chess", is older (known since 1140), also played at a 10x10-board (which seems to give the meaning "complete"), in this game the war machine moves like a king. An earlier version is known to have added a camel as figure.

Versions on the 10x10-board are generally named "Decimal chess".

Mongolian Shatar and Hiashatar[/b

This is somehow of special interest, as it shows, that the Mongols developed a specific interest in chess.

Shatar (8x8-board) looks somehow traditional, but has special rules: for instance a horse cannot checkmate a king. A king, once he had taken the place of the opposite king, can additionally jump like a horse. And some others.

Hiashatar (10x10-board) has the rather original idea of a body-guard figure.
"Hiashatar is a medieval chess variant deriving from Mongolia. The pieces move as in orthodox chess, with the exception of the additional piece, the Bodyguard (also called 'Senior Adviser' or 'Warrior'). It slides one or two steps in any direction. The Bodyguard has about the same value as a rook + two pawns (my estimate). A Bodyguard cannot checkmate (or capture) the enemy king. The Bodyguard can stymie the movement of enemy pieces, except the horse. This implies that an enemy piece can only move one square at a time so long its movement occurs on the squares immediately surrounding the Bodyguard. The horse, being so important in Mongolian life, is not affected by the stymieing powers of the Bodyguard." ... (in Hyashatar in contrast to Shatar the horse can checkmate the king) ....
"Thanks to its stymieing capability the Bodyguard is immune against long-range attacks from enemy queen, rook, and bishop. This also means that these pieces cannot easily guard friendly pieces being threatened by an enemy Bodyguard. This makes the Bodyguard a very useful attacking piece in the middlegame. If the Bodyguard is placed centrally during the middlegame, it effectively stymies the long-range enemy pieces. The horse, however, remains a serious threat to the Bodyguard. The Bodyguard's inability to threaten the enemy king is a serious deficit. There is no castling in Hiashatar, and removing the king from its exposed position in the centre is not always necessary, thanks to the effective protective capability of the Bodyguard. In an additional variant the Bodyguard stymies also friendly pieces, and can capture only the nearest square. This is possibly an authentic historical variant."

"This game is still played in Mongolia, although Fide-chess is taking over more and more. Hiashatar is said to have appeared 500 years ago. A legend tells us about it in the following way.
Long long ago a khan was living. He was forced to fight many wars. It helped him to understand that even most intensive training is not enough for a victory. Therefore he included into his army the authorized representatives responsible for safety. Other rulers found this innovation to be helpful too, and they made the same. And once a certain wise man under influence of these innovations has transformed the game of shatar, having entered into it particular bodyguards - the new figures responsible for safety of king."

It's recognizable, that the Bodyguard figure revolutionizes the game.

Image ... s%3Disch:1

Mongolian figures are especially nice and have their differences to usual chess figures:

Possibly they were inspired from Tibet chess developments:

Generally it seems, that the Mongols hadn't a chess for themselves (or possibly one, which was changed later), but through their dominant practice in war in the critical time had a general interest in strategic battle field considerations, so their engagement in chess was a natural result of their conquests. One has to observe, that "chess playing" was for Rothe in Germany around 1410 one of the 7 virtues of the knight (others were swimming, horse riding, fighting etc.), that's a similar consideration. Chess was in its begin a game for the nobility and the nobility had originally the function to solve militaric problems. And the Condottieri culture in Italy thought similar. Galeazzo Maria Sforza played and gambled on chess, not on playing card games results.

As the Mongols had access to various cultures, they naturally learned to know more than one chess variation, against the already existing Chinese Xanghi "flat" version they took their decision for the 3D Western version of Chess, but variated them and created new versions.
Tamerlane Chess, made at Persian ground (Persia was the second country of Chess, after the game was invented in India once), had the best possible basis to be developed as a new game with some continuity. However, the Mongolian reign didn't endure too long in Persia. So we have to conclude, that Tamerlane Chess stayed a nobility game and didn't reach the common market ...
... this story we somehow see repeated in Tarot and in the Trionfi cards. The usual farspread card game became the normal card game, 4x13 or varied and shortened. Trionfi cards were an exotic game for the nobility.
Tamerlane chess had too many fields and Trionfi cards too much cards. This isn't a mass product. But in India ... that's the place, where the Mongolian kingdom finally endured, reaching similar age as the Habsburg monarchy ... there we've playing card decks with 360 cards and even more.

Re: Chess variants 14th/15th century

a) In the poem, the queen moves like that the queen modern. It was probably by the influence of the powerful Catholic queen.

Look this, please, dear friend:

b) The chess of four season its a "Magic" Chess. Alonso X its was very interested in magic. He translated two works magic: the lapidary and Picatrix. (Magic: Orphism, Neoplatonism, astrology ...). In this chess wanted to show the relationship of the four humors and the Time (Hipocrátes. About the men).

In his book of games, has another very important: the "chess astronomical". I can explain, but in Spanish: S
When a man has a theory // Can’t keep his mind on nothing else (By Ross)

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