Zairab Khatai, a legendary aliya
Firdausi's Shahnama in https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/449000 ~ public domain

Zairab Khatai, a legendary aliya

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When I was examining the shatranj games of Abu Na'im for a previous blog about him, I've met an aliya [shatranj master], Zairab Khatai!

"The name of this player is doubtful. Ar-Raghib, who records the incident, writes Zairab. The chess MSS vary between Zairab, Zabzab, and Rabrab. In using the last form I follow Forbes and v. d. Linde. RAS calls him Rabrab Khata'i, i. e. of Chinese Turkestan." [from Murray's History, p. 197, footnote 32].

This name transformation made me think the possibility of Ziryab, the musician that legend has to bring shatranj in Europe. But the dates couldn't fit...

This incident was...

"'Al-Ma'mun (D. 218/833), who succeeded his brother al-Amin in the caliphate, was equally addicted to chess, though apparently with less success. "Strange that I who rule the world from the Indus in the East to Andalus in the West cannot manage 32 chessmen in a space of two cubits by two,' is the remark that as-Safadi records of this caliph....

But if al-Ma'mun himself was only a weak player, he yet liked to have strong players about him. On his expedition from Khurasan to Baghdad in 204/819 he watched Rabrab, Jabir al-Kufi, and Abdalghaffar al-Ansari play. The presence of the caliph manifestly embarrassed the players. 'Chess and reverence,' observed al-Ma'mun, 'don't seem to agree. They ought to talk together just as they would do if they were by themselves.'" [from Murray's History, p. 197 //check also Shenk's Immortal Game and Cazaux' & Knowlton's  A World of Chess, p. 17].

Al Suli, a following great aliya, considered Zairab, along with al Razi, the greatest of all previous aliyat!! Something that agrees with the three wins against Abu Na'im, described in the above mentioned previous blog.

So lets see some more...

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Firstly a reminder note on shatranj rules:

  • Farzin [Q] moves and takes only 1 square diagonally
  • Fil [B] moves and takes only 2 squares diagonally with a leap
  • Win comes with checkmate but also with the bare king rule: that is to leave the opponent's army without any other piece but the king. Unless, in the next move the opponent, also, can capture your last piece. Then it's a draw.
  • There's no castling rule or pawn double step
  • Pawns promote only to Farzin
  • Almost everything else is like chess

Zairab preferred muraddad opening. "It is a good opening which requires skill, and is a strong defense.
It is called muraddad from the repeated movement of the two Knights." [from Murray, p. 238].

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from MAN MS 01, mentioned in Murray, found in Manchester Digital Library

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Zairab "used to advise the exchange of the Firzan[Q] for the two marginal Baidaqs [a & h pawns], the exchange of the Fil[B] for two Baidaqs [Ps] under all circumstances, and the exchange of the weaker for the better Baidaqs [Ps]." [from Murray's History, p. 227].

From the positions I've found, referred to him, here're three... try them. For the first two there's an explanation video, as they can't be represented as a puzzle.

1                                                                                                              

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In Manchester Digital Library

White to play and win [checkmate]

FEN: k7/8/2QK2pb/6Bp/6r1/8/8/6R1 ~without move turn as it's white's turn and Q[farzin] gives check in modern rules.

SOLUTION:

1. Kc7 Rxg1 2. Qb7+ Ka7 3. Be3 wins         

2                                                                                                              

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In Qatar Digital Library

White to play and win [checkmate]

FEN: r4bk1/1r6/3p4/1B1NpP2/n1bq4/2qQB3/2KPR3/7R

SOLUTION:

1. Rg2+ Kf7 2. Rh7+ ... 3. Rxb7 wins... or 1. .. Rg7 2. Rh7!! & 3. Nf6+ checkmates     


the video...


3                                                                                                              

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In Manchester Digital Library

White to play and win [checkmate]

FEN: 2b1q3/3p3k/6pQ/p3nN2/np4PR/6PB/rr6/2R3K1

SOLUTION [I think that this can be presented in our minds without video, although it's a long solution]:

1. Qg7+ [disc,] Kg8 2. Rh8+ Kf7 3. Rf8+ Ke6 4. Rf6+ Kd5 5. Rd6+ Ke4 6. Rd4+ Kf3 7. Rf4+ Ke2 8. Rf2+ Kd3 9. Bf1+ Ke4 10. Rf4+ Kd5 11. Rd4+ Ke6 12. Rd6+ Kf7 13. Rf6+ Kg8 14. Rf8+ Kh7 15. Rh8#

I substituted the h6 Q with a B, so to work the pgn. But also remember that shatranj B can move and take only 2 squares diagonally with a leap. Try it

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An unsolved one??

I' ve found a mansuba [position] in Murray, without diagram, and I couldn't find any of the referred manuscripts. It's a beautiful position, white to play and win with bare king rule, but the given solution possibly has a cook that must be checked, as draw by repetition was applied in shatranj too. Murray mentions that there's another longer solution in another MS that doesn't give there [in his History, p. 311, no81]. Here it is as given by Murray...

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For some more [3] positions by Zairab, check my previous blog about Abu Na'im.

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