(This description is based on an article in Lev Kurin (ed.),
Sto receptov vyxodnogo,
Moscow: «Molodaja gvardija», 1988, pp. 156-160.)
Shatra is an old board game for two
played in Altai.
It is a variant
of Western chess
with draughts-style capture;
it also shares a few traits with older versions of chess,
and some other board games. Read on to see what I mean.
(I will draw your attention to similarities to xiang4qi2
and to rules shared with Russian draughts
but not with some other varieties of that game
shatra board consists of 62 squares which cover part of a checkered 7×14
rectangle. The squares are numbered from top to bottom and from left to
right, but I find it confusing to refer to them in this way,*
so I will use a straightforward algebraic notation here.
The following regions are recognised on the board:
White's fortress (9 squares in ranks 1 to 3);
White's gate (the single square d4);
White's half of the battlefield (21 squares in ranks 5 to
Black's half of the battlefield (21 squares in ranks 8 to
Black's gate (the single square d11);
Black's fortress (9 squares in ranks 12 to 14).
The opponents' halves of the board are separated by a ditch running
between ranks 7 and 8, which affects some of the moves of both sides' men.
d is called the great road.
At the beginning of the game each side has a king (biy), a queen
(batïr), two rooks (tura), two bishops (jalkïn)
and 11 pawns (šatra).** On diagrams a pawn
is usually displayed as a white or black circle and a king, queen, rook
or bishop as a similar circle marked respectively by a smaller circle,
a triangle, a square or a straight line of the opposite colour, and this
is also what the pieces look like in tournament sets. In souvenir sets
chess pieces are substituted, and that is what I shall do on my diagrams
The initial allocation of the armies is:
Kd4, Qd1, Rd2, Rd3, Bc3, Be3,
pp. c1, e1, c2, e2, a-g5;
Kd11, Qd14, Rd12, Rd13, Bc12, Be12,
pp. a-g10, c13, e13, c4, e14.
The men sitting in the fortress and gate at the beginning of the game are
said to be in reserve. They may not move; instead, they are
one at a time, on any vacant square of their own half of the battlefield.***
A drop counts as a move. Drops may be alternated with moves and captures
by those already on the battlefield, but as long as any men remain in reserve,
none of the others may return to the fortress, and the King alone may enter
A man who enters the fortress or gate after all men from the initial
reserve have been put out regains the right to be dropped anywhere in his
own half of the battlefield in addition to being able to move according
to the general rules. A man who enters the enemy's gate or fortress may
move there or be dropped on any vacant field of the enemy's half of the
Like his counterpart in Western
chess and most chess variants, the Pawn never retreats.
The Bishop moves diagonally to any distance, as long as no other
When he is on his own half of the battlefield, but has not reached the
ditch yet, he can move 1 or 2 squares forwards.****
Having reached the ditch, he moves 1 square forwards or diagonally forwards.
Having crossed the ditch, he moves 1 square forwards, diagonally forwards
Having reached the end rank of the board, he promotes to an officer other
than a King which has been captured by the enemy. If both Bishops, both
Rooks and the Queen are still alive, the Pawn must wait for a vacancy.*****
He may move sideways in the meantime.
The Rook moves orthogonally to any distance, as long as no other
piece interferes. However, he may not penetrate the enemy's gate or fortress
from within his own fortress or gate.
The Queen combines the movements of the Rook and the Bishop.
The King moves in the same directions as the Queen, but only
one square at a time. There is no castling in shatra.
Capturing is obligatory in shatra as it is in draughts.
A player may choose freely from two or more possible captures; there is
no requirement to make the longest capture.
The Pawn captures an orthogonally or diagonally adjacent enemy
man by leaping over him onto a vacant square immediately beyond. A capture
may be done in any direction ,
but may not take the Pawn back to his own gate or fortress. If the Pawn
can capture another man from where he lands (and then perhaps another and
...), he must do so in the same turn.
A white Pawn on rank 8, or a black one on rank 7, can
capture en passant an enemy's Pawn which has just made a double
move by leaping diagonally forwards over the empty square that the other
one has moved through, provided he lands on another empty square. (Consider
the diagram `Moves of the Pawn' above: if Black has a Pawn on b7,
he can respond to 1. c5-c7 by either 1. ... b7:d5 e.p. or
b7:d7.) En passant capture must take place immediately; if it
is declined (invariably in favour of another capture), it can no longer
a capture takes a Pawn to the end rank of the board, and he is promoted,
the newly produced officer must continue the capture in the same turn if
he can do so.
Here is how this works (diagram on the right). White: Kg5, p.
Black: Kg9, Rd13, p. e13. White wins by
and Queen capture in the same directions as they move, and may land
on any vacant square in the same line behind the prey, provided nothing
else interferes. There is one restriction, however: if they can continue
the capture, they must do so from the nearest square behind the prey.
Here is an example (diagram on the left). White: Kd4, Ra5,
pp. b6, d7; Black: Kf7, Qc10. White wins by
d7-c8 Qc10:a6 (but not 1. ...
because rank 6 is closer to the site of the first capture than the
diagonal a7-e3 is) 2. Ra5:a7:g7×.
The King captures as the Pawn does, but is not required to complete
a series of captures. He is also allowed not to capture at all, but then
he must move. A partial capture by the King is available as an alternative
to a capture by another man, but a quiet move is not. (White: Kd4,
p. c9; Black: Ka9, p. a8. White wins by
followed by 1. ... Ka9:c9 2. Ra5:a9:d9 (e-g9)× or 1. ...
a8:c10 2. Ra5:a10:d10 (e-g10)×.)
A Pawn may never make a capture which would take him to his own fortress
or gate, and no man but the King can make one which takes him to his gate
if there are men from the initial reserve in the fortress. (White: Kg5,
p. d8; Black: Kd11, pp. d7, d5. White captures
d8:d6, but not 1. d8:d6:d4, because that would get the Pawn
into his gate.)
captured man is removed from the board immediately, so he may not be leapt
Here is an illustration (diagram on the right). White: Kd4, Qa5;
Black: Kg10, pp. a6, a8, c10, e9, f9.
A bad move would be 1. Qa5:a10:d10:f8:f10
Kg10:e10, which results in a drawn game. A better one is 1. Qa5:f10:a10:a5
(note that the Queen returns to where she started, but the turn ends here,
because Pawn e9 has been leapt over once already).
«A Pawn in the enemy's gate captures according to the general rules
and the rules for the King.» Which may mean that he is allowed not
to capture all he can, or to opt for a quiet move if none of his comrades
can make a capture and he doesn't want to; but he gives up those rights
as soon as he enters the enemy's fortress.
«Capture within and from the fortresses is done according to the
general rules. A man from the initial reserve which makes a capture within
his fortress must be put out at the next non-capture turn.» Meaning,
as it appears, that although the men who have not yet left the fortress
may not move in it, they may capture in it -- but if they do, they are
signed up for the next drop.
The game is won if the enemy is stalemated or his King is captured;
and it is drawn if both opponents agree that it is.
There are two implementations of the game, both by Francis Monkman:
It makes it extremely hard to tell where any two given squares are located
relative to one another, unless one has memorised the entire layout. Because
of the irregular shape of the table, the situation is even worse in shatra
than it is in international draughts.
About the names of the pieces:
Watch this space for what I may find out about jalkïn.
So in Kurin's description. According to David Pritchard (The Encyclopedia
of Chess Variants), men may not be dropped onto the great road. Both
Francis Monkman and I think that such a rule makes sense in the context
of the game, but players should make sure they both agree to abide by it
before starting a game, so that arguments might be avoided.
I would guess that only a Pawn on the rearmost rank of the battlefield
(5 for White, 10 for Black) can make a double move.
In chess such a rule existed until the end of the 19th century in Italy,
even though it was significantly more problematic there. (For one thing,
a chess pawn on the end rank is frozen, unlike a shatra pawn. For another,
victory in chess is by checkmate, not by capturing the opponent's King,
which can lead to trouble if one side checkmates the other by capturing
an officer, to which a Pawn-in-waiting automatically promotes, also giving
checkmate. This problem does not arise in shatra.)
biy is `chief, lord', from Old Turkic bäg (the 3rd or
4th ruler's rank after qagan `emperor', qan `king' and tägin
`prince'), itself of Chinese origin (cf. Mandarin bo2
batïr probably means `champion, hero' (cf. Classical Mongolian
tura is a substandard Russian chess term for `rook' (from French
tour `tower; rook'), but it is also Altai for `house' or `town';
šatra may or may not have to do with Bulgarian šatra (and
similar words in other languages) `tent' (via Turkic ultimately from Indo-Iranian),
which might make sense in light of the conical (tent-like) shape pawns
tend to have in antique Arabian etc. chess sets.
Created and maintained by Ivan A Derzhanski.
Last modified: 5 June 2000.