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Nīlakaņţ·ha’s Intellectual Game

By John Ayer



H. J. R. Murray described this game on pages 64–66 of his History of Chess. The source is “Bhaţţa Nīlakaņţ·ha’s great encyclopaedia of ritual, law, and politics, the Bhagavantabhāskara. This work was written about 1600 or 1700...” 


The board is eight squares by eight, and the author accurately describes the goose-foot markings on the sixteen squares at the corners of the four quarters of the board. 


(Setup image created with Game Courier by the editor.)

The king and counsellor stand on the two central squares on the first rank. King faces king and counsellor faces counsellor, but the board is not checkered, and there is no mention of the colors of the two sides, so we cannot say whose counsellor stood to the left of his king. The king and counsellor are flanked by camels, which are flanked by horses, which are flanked by elephants standing in the corners. The second rank is filled with pawns.


The king moves one square in any of the eight directions. The counsellor moves one square diagonally only. The camel leaps diagonally to the second square: the alfil’s move. The horse has the usual knight’s leap. The elephant, starting in the corner, has the rook’s move. The pawn moves one step forward, and captures one step diagonally forward. When a pawn reaches the end of the board, if on a marked square (a, d, e, h files), it is promoted to counsellor. If it reaches the last rank on an unmarked square (b, c, f, g files), it is returned to its square of origin, with the rank of counsellor. There is no mention of what happens if that square is occupied; the counsellor is probably placed on the nearest empty square on that rank.


Our sage source mentions the possibility of transposing the king and one elephant, apparently before the start of the game. 

At the start of the game the counsellors’s pawns, the counsellors, and one other pawn on each side are advanced two steps; then normal play begins.

The game can be won by checkmate, by isolation of the king (a half-victory), or by perpetual check. If a king is stalemated, “he may slay the piece of the enemy in his vicinity which imprisons him.”