Thai Chess also known as Makruk is the closest living relative to the oldest known form of chess, Chaturanga. It is extremely popular in it's native Thailand 2 million players from a general population of 45 million reported. The game is also played widely in neighboring Cambodia.
The pieces are similar to Western Chess in terms of rank and initial set up. There are some differences in the moves. There are only two real differences when setting up. The pawns begin on the third rank instead of having the ability to move two square on the first move. The kings do not face each other. They always start to the left of the queen.
If you're ever in Thailand you will see people playing this game everywhere, in parks, cafes, sidewalks. This game is far more widespread in the country than Western Chess, only a few thousand can play our game. Makruk is so popular that they have a national tournament every year where the standard of play is very high. If you are knowledgeable on this, feel free to discuss Makruk's influence on Thai society.
Makruk was first played in Thailand over a thousand years ago. The Indian game Chaturanga swept in from the west and evolved in Thailand over the centuries into Thai Chess.
The Europeans decided to speed up chess by giving the pawn the ability to move two squares. They introduced the en passant rule to prevent this from leading to unearned passed pawns. The Thais took a different approach to the same problem. They simply placed their pawns on the third rank and this meant they didn't even need an en passant rule.
All of the movements of the pieces are very similar to the Chaturanga moves. There is also movement similarities to other variants like Shogi.
Thai Chess is played on an 8x8 game board just like Western Chess although it is not checkered. The set up is nearly the same as I said to Western Chess. The only differences again are kings to the left of the queens and pawns on the 3rd rank.
The Makruk pieces much as ours did before they were souped up in the Middle Ages. The pawn moves as our pawn does. It promotes to a queen on the opponent's 3rd rank where the enemy pawns started the game. The Makruk king is called a Khun (feudal lord) and moves just as our king does. The queen is called a met or seed (in this game the piece is an advisor) and moves one square diagonally in any direction.
Makruk's equivalent of a bishop is called a Khon and it can move only one square at a time. Either straight or diagonally forward or diagonally backward. The horse or ma moves just as a knight does in chess. Makruk's answer to a rook is called a rua meaning a boat and it's move is identical to our rook.There are also some counting rules to be aware of.
When the last unpromoted pawn is captured the weaker side can begin counting. The stronger side must checkmate the weaker king in a set amount of moves. Otherwise it is a draw. The weaker side cannot win the game while he is counting.
If he thinks he can checkmate the stronger king he may stop counting. If he later chooses to count again he must start a fresh count. All remaining pieces are counted and counting begins from the next number. If there are seven pieces left on the board, the weaker player declares his opponents next move to be move number eight in the count. The size of the count depends on the strength of the stronger army.
Makruk by all accounts is an even more high wire game than Western Chess from a strategic point of view. In Western Chess you can pick an opening before the game and pre-plan the first 8 or 10 moves. You research your chosen opening well and get familiar with all of the likely variations.
Then you can be sure that you'll achieve your opening goals without much fuss. You will also have choices at different junctures where you can alternate between different plans depending on your opponent's actions.
Not so in Thai Chess. With the pawns starting on the 3rd rank you start the game in what would amount to approaching the middle game in our chess. Former World Chess Champion Vladimir Kramnik learned to play Makruk and he went even further in his assessment.
He said of the game: "Makruk Thai is more strategic than International Chess. You have to plan your operations with total care since Makruk Thai can be compared to an anticipated endgame of International Chess".
You can play this is popular game online. Whether you need a bit of practice before taking other people or you're ready to dive into combat your needs are catered for.
If you just want to get used to the pieces and basic strategy you can start with a fairly non-threatening computer opponent at ChessVariants.Org. You should be able to start winning after just a couple of attempts.
When you feel you've got the hang of it you may want to take on other players. Registration is relatively quick and quite painless at Play Ok.
Makruk or Thai Chess is deeply woven into Thai conciousness. It is a national treasure. It has been part of the country's heritage for so long that the people could not possibly imagine Thailand without it. Everywhere you go in Thailand you will see people, young and old, playing this game everywhere, in parks, cafes, sidewalks and markets. There must be a wealth of great stories and tales from Makruk history dating back through the centuries. Do you have an amazing tale from Makruk's rich history?
Click below to see Makruk Footprints by other Lapocites...
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