Makruk ( Thai Chess )

Thai Chess board

If you’ve spent any amount of time in Thailand you’ve no doubt seen it being played in all manner of places by Thai’s and probably wondered to yourself just what exactly are they playing? well, if you haven’t already guessed they are playing Thai chess. Makruk is one of the most popular board games in Thailand today and it’s estimated that over 2 million Thai’s play on a regular basis.

Makruk is a direct decedent of the 6th century Indian game of  Chaturanga which is regarded as the common ancestor of all chess games. Makruk is the only variant on chess that is played today that most closely resembles the Indian game of Chaturanga.

While Makruk looks slightly similar to it’s Western cousin that’s where the similarity ends as the majority of the pieces move differently and the board isn’t set up exactly the same which makes for a much more challenging game. When looking at the Thai Chess pieces you’ll probably only recognize one piece right away and that would be the Knight, which is the only piece that looks and moves exactly the same as it does in Western Chess.

Thai Chess Pieces

The Bia ( Pawn ) Starts off on the third row of the chess board instead of the second row as in Western chess. The Bia can only move one space forward at a time except when taking another piece which is done diagonally. Once the Bia moves three squares forward,  to the opposing players Bia square,  it is promoted to a queen unlike in western chess when a pawn needs to go all the way over to the opposite end of the board.

The Rua ( Rook ) moves exactly as it does in western chess which is  as many squares as you want vertically or horizontally at a time. Because Thai chess is played a little differently than Western chess the Rua becomes a much more powerful piece if still in use at the end of a game.

The Khon (  Bishop ) can move one square diagonally in every direction or one square forward. In Thai chess the Khon is used primarily to protect the Khun ( King ) and plays a much more important role towards the end of a game.

The Khun ( King ) moves exactly as the King does in Western chess. One square at a time in any direction.

The Met ( Queen ) can move diagonally in every direction but only one square at a time. as in Western chess the Met is a very important attack piece as well as protection for the Khun ( King ).

The Ma ( Knight ) moves exactly as it does in Western Chess. Two steps in one direction and then one step perpendicular to that movement, or one step in any one direction and two steps perpendicular. It jumps over any pieces in the way.

The game is played on an un-checkered 8×8 square board. The opening set up is very similar to Western chess except that the white King and Queen are reversed and the pawns start off on the third row of the board. The object of the game is also the same as Western chess which is to checkmate the King.

One of the most  interesting, and also confusing,  aspects of the game are the counting rules. When the last pawn has been removed from the board the counting rules come into play. At this point checkmate must be made within 64 moves or a draw is declared. When a new piece is captured the counting starts over again.

The disadvantaged player does the counting and may also stop the counting at any time. When the last piece that is not the king is captured from the disadvantaged player the counting will start again and will be determined by the amount of major pieces left on the opposing players side. Such as:

  • If there are 2 rooks left: 8 moves
    If there is 1 rook left: 16 moves
    If there are no rooks left, but there are 2 bishop: 22 moves
    If there are no rooks left, but there is 1 bishop: 44 moves
    If there are no rooks or bishops left, but there are 2 knights: 32 moves
    If there are no rooks or bishops left, but there is 1 knight: 64 moves
    If there are no rooks, bishops, or knights, but queens: 64 moves

If checkmate hasn’t been reached in the required amount of moves then the game is declared a draw. The counting is maintained by the disadvantaged player out loud and as stated before the disadvantaged player can stop counting all together or not resume counting when a piece is taken. All rather confusing and steeped in much debate throughout the chess playing world.

I’ve played Makruk quite a few times now and have lost miserably all of those times before counting ever became a problem.  If you like chess then you might find Makruk right up your ally. You can click the link below if you would like to try your hand at a game against a computer.

Makruk ( Thai Chess ) online

sig1 Makruk ( Thai Chess )

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Comment by CatherineNo Gravatar Subscribed to comments via email
2009-11-26 20:00:32

Talen, I do like chess so I might give it a go one of these days.

And I am forever driving past men gathered around a board, kicking myself for not seeing them in time.

I am not flustered about losing the chance for a game of chess, but for the lost photo opportunity.

(In Thailand, if I backtrack for every photo situation, I’d never get anywhere… so in the hopes of seeing something equally important further ahead, I generally keep on going)
Catherine´s last blog ..Jai Words: Learn Thai with More Words of the Heart My ComLuv Profile

Comment by TalenNo Gravatar
2009-11-27 04:49:16

Cat, for some reason I never have my camera with me when I pass a game of Thai chess…or checkers for that matter. Most of the checkers games I’ve seen use bottle caps like we did when we were kids.

Comment by CatherineNo Gravatar Subscribed to comments via email
2009-11-27 04:55:39

I often take a camera when I’m out and about.

And it has taken me awhile, but my taxi driver now stops for photos on a dime.

If he hears a sharp intake of breath from me, he slams on the brakes. I didn’t ask for this either, he just does it.

It is fairly effective as his maneuvering skills are honed, but we have yet to pass by chess players since he perfected this move.
Catherine´s last blog ..Jai Words: Learn Thai with More Words of the Heart My ComLuv Profile

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Comment by MartynNo Gravatar
2009-11-27 03:17:16

Talen I have seen Thai’s playing board games but never really taken any notice. I used to play chess when I was younger but got seriously into football and that was the end of chess.

There are a couple of stalls at the big Nong Khai market I visit that sell games and I’m going to check them out. If I see the Makruk game on display then I’ll buy it no shadow of doubt.

Any idea on the cost because I really like the look of the one in your photos but it does appear well carved and perhaps a little pricey. I’ll definitely by the board game on my Christmas trip and my grey matter is gonna give the young one and her uncles one hell of a beating…perhaps.
Martyn´s last blog ..Thailand At Work – Streetwalkers and Roadworkers My ComLuv Profile

Comment by TalenNo Gravatar
2009-11-27 04:46:37

Martyn, I’ve seen similar boards to the one I have in the post for around 6-800 baht. The nicer ones are like the old chess sets with the box beneath the board for chess pieces and checker pieces.

Comment by MikeNo Gravatar Subscribed to comments via email
2009-11-27 03:41:11

Talen what an interesting post. Funnily enough I have not seen it played here but I am sure it is.

I quite like chess, but I fancy the rules for Makruk are a little difficult to remember.

Thanks for sharing this one, now I need to keep my eyes open.
Mike´s last blog ..Soi Chicken My ComLuv Profile

Comment by TalenNo Gravatar
2009-11-27 04:48:00

Mike, The rules aren’t so bad until you get to the counting part. You can always play checkers too on the same board…very easy and not so many rules.

Comment by TomNo Gravatar Subscribed to comments via email
2009-11-27 06:43:39

I’ve never been to Thailand but I think makruk is ace. The lack of long range diagonal pieces like bishops and queens suit my style a lot more as I’m less likely to be taken by surprise by bishops coming from nowhere and game is a lot more tactical. The khon is a fantastic piece to play with and makes makruk much more interesting than the similar shatranj (the direct forerunner of modern chess) which has an awkward elephant instead.

That said, I’ve only played correspondence makruk (on a site called SchemingMind). It’s interesting there as none of the makruk players there are Thai, we only really have the rules to work off, and none of the theory. I understand there is a lot of theory and literature about makruk, if you can read Thai.
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