Chaturaji (means "four kings", also known as "Choupat", IAST Caupāṭ, IPA: [tʃɔːˈpaːʈ]) is a four player chess-like game. It was first described in detail circa 1030 by Biruni in his India book. Originally, this was a game of chance: the pieces to be moved were decided by rolling two dice. A diceless variant of the game was still played in India at the close of the 19th century.
Presenting myself as a Brahmana, Kanka by name, skilled in dice and fond of play, I shall become a courtier of that high-souled king. And moving upon chess-boards beautiful pawns made of ivory, of blue and yellow and red and white hue, by throws of black and red dice. I shall entertain the king with his courtiers and friends.
However, there is no certainty whether the mentioned game is really a chess-like game like Chaturaji, or a race game like Pachisi.
Captain Cox and professor Forbes put forth a theory (the Cox-Forbes theory), that Chaturaji is a predecessor of Chaturanga and hence the ancestor of modern chess. An even stronger version of this theory was put forward by Prof. Stewart Culin. However, this theory was rejected by Murray, modern scholars siding with Murray.
The game is played with pieces of four different colors as shown in the diagram. Each player has four pieces on the back rank with four pawns in front of them on the second rank. The four pieces are king, elephant, horse and boat (or ship in some sources). The king moves like the chess king, the elephant like the chess rook and the horse like the chess knight. The boat corresponds to the chess bishop but has a more restricted range, like the alfil in Shatranj. The boat moves two squares diagonally in any direction as shown in the diagram, jumping over the intervening square. Note that this differs from most ancient chess-like games where it is the elephant which normally corresponds to the chess bishop.
The pawn also moves as in chess, but does not have the option of an initial double-square move. Each of the four players' pawns moves and captures in a different direction along the board, as one would expect from the initial player's setup. For example, the red pawns which start on the g-file above move left across the board, promoting on the a-file. Also, the pawn's promotion rules are different; one must promote to the piece that starts on the same file (or rank) of the promotion square (king included) and one can promote only after one's piece of that type has been captured.
When a boat moves in such a way that a 2x2 square filled with boats is formed, it captures all three boats of other players (see diagram). This rule is called boat triumph.
On each turn two dice are thrown. Usually oblong (four sided) stick dice were used. Players were allowed to throw the dice in the air and catch them, exercising some control over the outcome. However, playing with cubic dice is also possible. Pieces to be moved are determined by dice numbers (note that the stick dice didn't have 1 and 6):
- 1 or 5 - pawn or king
- 2 - boat
- 3 - knight
- 4 or 6 - elephant
On each turn two moves may be made, one for each die. The same or two different pieces may be moved, and the player may skip one or both of his moves if desired.
There is no check or checkmate. The king can be captured like any other piece. The goal of the game is to collect as many points as possible. Points are scored by capturing opponents' pieces, according to this scale:
- pawn - 1
- boat - 2
- knight - 3
- elephant - 4
- king - 5.
A score of 54 points is awarded to a player who manages to capture all three opponents' kings while his own king remains on the board. This value is a sum of points of all pieces in three armies.
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