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Subject: A short review of Burmese Chess rss

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Bryan Stout
United States
Annandale
Virginia
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When I was in college, I had a few friends with whom I loved to play different chess variations, many of them learned from John Gollon's Chess Variations Ancient, Regional, and Modern. This one was one of our favorites.

The rules (from memory, so there might be small errors):

- The Board. Burmese chess can be played on a normal 8x8 board. The traditional boards didn't have checkerboard coloring, but that doesn't affect play. They do also show lines along the major diagonals of the board, which is important for pawn promotion; it's not hard to see where those squares are without the drawn lines.

- The Pieces. The standard set of pieces is used, though some of them move differently. The king, knights and rooks move as in standard chess. Pawns move and capture the same, except they cannot take a double move at first or ever. The queen moves like a firzan (the original queen's move), moving one square diagonally. The bishops move like the silver generals in Shogi, namely one square diagonally or one square straight ahead. Pieces capture as in standard chess, moving onto the enemy's square. There is no castling or enpassant capture.

- Promotion. A Pawn may promote if it is on one of the squares on the main diagonals (a1-h8 or a8-h1), and if the queen has already been captured, because it promotes to the queen. If a pawn moves past the diagonals it does not promote, and is just stuck on reaching the last rank.

- The Setup. The board starts with only the pawns on the board, very close to each other: the white pawns on a3-d3,e4-h4, black pawns on a5-d5, e6-h6.
The game starts by the players taking turns placing the remaining pieces on the board, one at a time. The pieces are placed on empty squares behind the pawns, or a piece may replace a friendly pawn, which is immediately placed in an empty square behind the pawn rows. A sample setup may be like this:


- The Play. After all the pieces are on the board, play continues normally. The goal is to checkmate the opposing king; I forget what the draw conditions are, but a stalemate might be considered a win -- it often was in older versions of chess.

The review:

This is a very enjoyable variation of chess, for two major reasons:

1. The allowance of a setup phase adds a new level of strategy. Gollon didn't think much of the game because the sources said players tended to use favorite setups, not responding to how others were setting up. But we found this was a great addition, even if some people didn't take advantage of its possibilities.

2. The game has a unique feel to it. It reminds me of (American) football, with the pieces lined up face to face, and all havoc breaking out once the action starts. This is very appropriate for pieces that have shorter-range moves than standard modern chess. The older game Shatranj has the modern setup but with the older slower moves (the bishop did a 2-diagonal jump rather than Silver move above), so it is slower to get into; several medieval variants which expand the board to 10x10 or 12x12 are even slower. So it is good to have a variant that starts with the pawns developed, and tactical maneuvering from piece placement.
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miklos kuti
Hungary
Budapest
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are you allowed to set up your two bishops to be on the same 'color' spaces? (in the example setup the two black bishops have positions that would be impossible in regular chess)
 
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Bryan Stout
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The answer is yes, because the bishops move differently than modern western bishops, as described above.
 
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