Advanced learners and chess go hand in hand. In the past, I’ve used chess to introduce systems, introduce depth and complexity, and discuss paradoxes. However, since so many of my students understand the basics of chess, I decided to expose them to some chess-like games from other cultures.
We began our study with Go, a game originating from China but often associated with Japan. Go is played on a grid of 19 by 19 intersecting lines, although smaller boards are also used.
Go is a great starting point because of its simplicity. There is only one type of piece, and players simply attempt to surround their opponent. When surrounded, groups of pieces are removed from the board. The winner is the player who controls the majority of the board.
Within minutes of my introduction, my students were giving it a shot and no one showed any signs of stopping after a half hour.
Everyone simply used whiteboards, drawing 5×5 boards to start with. After some practice, I gave them graph paper and they created 9×9 and 13×13 boards.
Naturally, this simple game contains incredible depth and could become a year long study for students who take an interest.
There are some beautiful Go sets available, but I’ve gone with this cheap magnetic set for students to use in the classroom.
While researching Go, I came across the Chinese board game Xiangqi. This chess-like game features numerous pieces, such as:
Some interesting points of divergence from chess include:
- a river which divides the board and controls movement
- a palace which restrict movements of essential pieces
- pieces which are placed on intersections, rather than within boxes
I haven’t used Xiangqi in the classroom yet, as it’ll require an actual set of pieces. A quick stop at Amazon revealed a couple inexpensive options: a magnetic travel set and a basic set, both for around $10.
As we were reading about Go, a student alerted me to the Indian game Shatranj, considered the ancestor to modern chess.
This game developed out of an even older variant, called Chanturanga. It may fascinate your students to learn that no one knows how some of the Chaturanga pieces moved. This knowledge has been lost.
Shatranj’s pieces parallel modern chess, but also have interesting differences:
- The Shah is analogous to the king
- The Fers, or counsellor, is a bishop that can move only one square diagonally
- The chariot parallels the rook
- The elephant is like a bishop, but moves two squares diagonally and jumps like a knight
- The horse (or Faras) is identical to the knight
- The foot-soldiers (Baidaqs) are nearly the same as pawns
It appears that Shatranj can be played with a standard chess set by renaming a few pieces, so no need to purchase anything to get started!
Once I started reading about these different pieces, I start wanting to create my own version of chess. This is a popular way of playing chess and is known as Fairy Chess. Variants include new rules, different board sizes, and (my favorite) new pieces.
Some popular fairy chess pieces are:
- the Amazon (a combination of knight and queen)
- the Nightrider (a knight which can make multiple knight-like leaps per turn)
- the Grasshopper (a queen which leaps over existing pieces)
A fun variant on chess is to include four players, one on each side of the playing field This requires a slightly modified board, but radically changes players’ strategies.
More examples of fairy chess can be found here.
A final example is a fascinating German twist on chess, called Kriegspiel in which players are unaware of the positions of their opponent’s pieces. This more accurately simulates a real war and requires a third player who acts as a referee, determining whether moves are legal. A similar variant, Dark Chess, allows partial information about opponent’s pieces based on what the player’s current pieces can “see.”
These variations add immense complexity, but would probably work best using a computer to provide feedback on legal moves and consequences.
When To Use?
These aren’t going to be in-depth studies, but I might grab twenty minutes of class time every couple weeks and introduce one of these games. I’d allow students to play after they’ve finished other work, or offer boards during recess or before school as a way to get like-minded students interacting.
Some students will go deep on their own, quickly outclassing me, while others may not be too interested. This is simply a way to expose my students to new ideas and shake up their points of view.
Let me know if you incorporate this into your classroom!
Photo by conorwithonen