The Rules of Medieval Chess 1

The Rules of Chess, Spain, 1283. From the Book of Games of Alphonso X.

A short video showing how the pieces move and how victory is achieved. It shows enough that you can learn to play this form of medieval chess. All you need is a modern chess set and board.

The rules are similar to modern chess but there are several significant differences. Thankfully, they are easy to learn.

Alphonso X was king of Castile, Leon, and Galicia from 1252 to 1284. Known as ‘The Wise’ he had much of his court culture recorded and surviving copies of his “Libro de ajedrez, dados, y tablas” (Book of Chess, Dice, and Tables) give us the rules for many games played in his kingdom.

This version of chess is the main one that Alphonso dictated to his scribes. He placed considerable importance on being able to play chess well and gave much instruction on how to do so, sadly in this video we have time only for the basic moves. Enjoy.

I hope to face you across a chessboard sometime.
Etienne Fevre, Eplaheimr, Drachenwald.

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Music: The Swedish medieval band Själ. You can find their music here at their web page: you can also find information and updates from them at their Facebook page: … Thank you so much for letting us use your excellent music!

Musik: Det svenska Medeltidsbandet Själ. Du kan hitta deras musik här på deras web sida: kan också hitta information och uppdateringar från dem på deras Facebook sida: tack för att ni låter oss använda er fantastiska musik!


  1. 1st things 1st – I've never seen this set pieces before and love it! The size is something rarely seen, the robust Staunton-like designs. Are they weighted? I guess not as there are no felt bottoms. I also noticed that the left black rook had kinda a smaller head and without the 4 grooves. It was cool not to have felt bottoms so the Rooks can be flipped.2nd thing – the Knight's move – I'll make a point about the oriental version and a related point on the King's leap. The western world understood the Knight's move as 2 squares orthogonally and 1 square off-sided, hence literature mentions of this "3rd square". Whereas in Xiangqi, the Knight's move was understood as 1 square orthogonally and 1 square diagonally. Hence 3:39 you used the word diagonally wrongly. Another point I wanted to make – why the difference is important was because of the King's leap. The King cannot leap over threatened squares. Under Xiangqi, Knights can be blocked because that single orthogonal intervening square, if occupied, could block access to 2 squares – and completely smothering a Xiangqi knight required blocking all 4 orthogonal positions. To block a King's leap to that "3rd square", either the 2 squares in the orthogonal directions need to be threatened.

  2. Wonderful explanation, thank you Your Excellency!

  3. I've been waiting for a video like this; it's great! Although, that position at the end isn't checkmate since the elephant could take that rook which moved last….haha. These rules are almost the same as Shatranj, expect for those special opening Queen/ferz moves, and the double movement of the pawn at the beginning. Also, you should say "orthogonally" not "diagonally" when discussing the Knight's moves. Still, great video and very nice chess set. Where'd you get it?

  4. Nice chess set? Where can I get one?

  5. Interesting how the elephant's and the ferz's moves are so different from the modern bishop and queen.

    Was there any rule about the initial position of the king versus the ferz? Your setup is opposite from modern usage. Your white king is to the left of the ferz, ahd your black king is to the right.

    Also, was there a rule about the color positioning? You have a black square in the right-hand corner, whereas modern usage requires the right-hand corner to be a white square.

    I agree with "Chris" below about the misuse of "diagonally" in the description of the knight's move.

    A grammar complaint at 0:50 — it should be "at its height," i.e., no apostrophe on "its." Possessive pronouns never have apostrophes: its, hers, yours, theirs.

  6. Very nice. It's amazing how little the rules have changed in all these centuries.

  7. Omg😬 in old days queen is so week…rook and knight the the 1 never change the moves .the beshop/elephant?? Old day also deferent moves .its jump to the other piece ..

  8. Question: you said the knight can move two in one direction and 1 diagonally but moves it 2 in one direction and one to 90 degree side, not diagonally. Did it really say diagonally?

    Also: Does the line with the checkmate mean that a player can’t take out the piece thats checking with another piece? Let’s say in the end the queen wasn’t a queen but a rook, could it not have taken the opponents rook because you only may move your own king?

  9. Unless the board is different in this version, you have flipped the board. The a1 square should be dark, not light.

  10. I don't think that's a checkmate, because the white elephant could take the rook which checks the king!

  11. Thank you for making this video and researching stuff for us!!

  12. Thx, will be using this for my English CBA

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