Thai Chess

Thai Chess

Sep 13, 2014, 7:24 PM |

When I am not playing chess or gracing the forums with my presenceLaughing, I am either programming or teaching.

Yesterday I saw one of my students was playing checkers (Makot in Thai) on his phone. I asked him about it and he said he plays everyday. So I went into my house, got my chessboard and pawns, returned and challenged him to a game.

This was the second time since I've been in Thailand that I played makot, and, just like last time, I didn't stand a chance. I explained to the student that I never play makot, instead, I play makrook(chess). He said he knew how to play and he agreed to play a game with me. 

I went and got the rest of the pieces, brought them to the board then went back inside to get some fruit and water. When I returned he had set-up the board but had put the pawns on the 3rd row instead of the 2nd.

Then I realized, I said 'makrook' which is actually Thai Chess.

Now, I've lived in Thailand for almost 10 years and am familiar with this game. But the last time I played it was about 8 years ago. Back then, I didn't stick with it because the play style was not to my liking. I'll explain more about this in a moment.

Anyway, I figured it was easier for me to try makrook than to try and teach him chess. Besides, what kind of chess player would I be if I passed up the opportunity to learn more about this very popular chess variant.

Despite the differences in the move pieces, I was actually able to put together a decent attack using principles and ideas from chess.

The first game I crushed him, the second game he came up with a nice tactic that gave him a decisive advantage and the third game I won but it was a hard fight.

Today, I will share with you the rules of this game. 

The Pieces -

Bia - This is the pawn of Thai chess. It moves and attacks just like the chess pawn. However, it starts on the 3rd rank, does not have en passant, does not have the 2 square move option on the first move and when promoted, only promotes to a Met.(Bia is the Thai word for a coin)

Rhua - This is equivelant to the rook in chess. It is set-up and played exactly the same as in chess.(Rhua is the thai word for boat)

Ma - This is equivelant to the knight in chess. It is set-up and played exactly the same as in chess.(Ma is the Thai word for horse)

Kohn - This piece is placed where you would place your bishops in chess.(Kohn is the Thai word for person)

Met - This piece is alwas placed to the right of the king no matter which side you play.(Met is Thai for 1 piece)

Khun - This is equivelant to the king in chess. Its moves are exactly the same. It is always set-up to the left of Met.(Khun is the Thai word for 'you')

And here is the board when all the pieces are set-up:

The Rules -

For the most part, the rules are the same. 

You win the game by either checkmating the king or your opponent resigns. However, I think a lot of makrook players don't resign mainly because of the somewhat complex draw rules.

When you check your oppoent, you say 'ruke'. I'm not sure what the word for checkmate is, I forgot to ask. But, I think it is 'makrook'.

Counting Rules -

How a game of Thai chess is drawn is quite different than Chess.

Once one side is down to just his Khun, this counting rule kicks in. The counting rule determines how many moves the winning side has to checkmate before the game is called a draw.

Basically, the more pieces the winning side has, the fewer moves he has to checmate before the game is a draw. Here is the breakdown:

  • If there are two rhua left: 8 moves
  • If there is one rhua left: 16 moves
  • If there are no rhua left, but there are two kohn: 22 moves
  • If there are no rhuarooks left, but there is one kohn: 44 moves
  • If there are no rhua or kohn left, but there are two ma: 32 moves
  • If there are no rhua or kohn left, but there is one ma: 64 moves
  • If there are no rhua, kohn, or ma, but met: 64 moves

And, there's more; Counting the moves does not start the next move. You add up all your pieces plus the Kohn the losing player has and you have that number of moves plus 1 before the counting begins. 

So, if you have 2 rhua, you would start counting in 5 moves(2 rhua + 1 Khun + 1 Khun + 1 = 5; Bia don't count)

Strategy -

Earlier I mentioned that I had originally passed on playing this game because of the style differences.

You might notice that, unlike chess, there is only 1 long range piece; the Rhua.

This means that everything is 'close quarters' rather than the quite often trapping and mating done with long range pieces in chess.

Before, when I was just another casual player, I didn't really understand how to trap the king without the extra power of long range pieces.(In fact, I wasn't even that great WITH these extrapowerful pieces). So I kept losing because I didn't know how to attack the king or how to prevent attacks on my king.

Now, it was a different deal. I had no problem closing in on my opponents king and checkmating him. 

The Opening -

I noticed that most people I played against liked to develop their Ma first(Knights before bishopsSmile)

One website I found, had the following as a common opening for the game: 


 A little boring looking, but it seems to fit with what I know about Thai chess; close quarters fighting.

It also seems to follow a few chess opening objectives:

  • Develop your pieces before attacking
  • Knights(Ma) before bishops(Khon)
  • Connect your rooks(Rhua)
  • Control the center
Funny enough, my opponent chose to move his Ma first to the squares in front of his Khun and Met. But, my opening looked more like what you see here and it was only based on my knowledge of chess opening principles.

Conclusion -

Despite my initial apprehensions, I acutally quite enjoyed the games I played yesterday. I was slightly surprised how easily my chess knowledge was adapted. I think with a little more practice I could be a pretty good Makrook player.

If you would like to try this game, here are a few ideas(For those who don't live in Thailand or Cambodia):

1. You can use regular chess pieces. This is what we used yesterday. You just have to be careful. At one point, when I was already lost, I was thinking about the Khon(Bishop) as a bishop so I didn't realize I would lose a piece when it landed in front of the Khon.

2. There are a couple of online live platforms. Here is one but I think you have to pay to play.

3. I did a quick Google search and found several desktop apps. But none of them seemed to want to install properly.

I did download 1 for Android called Siam Chess. It seems OK. Have not played it much yet.

I hope you have enjoyed this introduction to this interesting chess variation. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.

Update -

Thanks to Boogalicious, I have a couple of things to add.

First, he found a free site to play Thai Chess. I've played a few games and got stomped in all of them. The players there are much better than my live opponent.

During a chat, I was telling Boogalicious some of the translations of the pieces. The piece we call the king, is called 'Khun' which means 'you'. After this, he gave me a link to an interesting article. It's not about Thai chess, but it is interesting just the same.