Human Chess

humanchess1On the Legendary Night Festival in Hoi An visitors feel like they have turned back to the 19th century, with no motorbikes, no artificial lights, all the streets are decorated with colourful traditional lantern.  It is a truly mesmerising sight. Added to this is soulful folk and opera music wafting in from all corners, punctuated by the chanting of lyrical poetry. You can see some of the traditional games here like: bai choi, dap niu, and one of the most interesting games is human chess.

Human-chess is a very attractive and exclusive art form which was created from the traditional Vietnamese kung fu (martial arts). Watching the human-chess game, spectators are always charmed with the skillful traditional kung fu performed by martial artists. If you have an opportunity to visit Hoi An old town on festival days, you will see the human-chess game imbued with the traditional cultural feature.

Every move of the human chess pieces is such a spectacular movement of kung fu that the spectators give non-stop big applause as great praise. That tells us about the attraction of this art. The beauty of man chess game is its dignity of creativeness and calmness to raise the traditional, cultural value of festivals descending for centuries.

How to play “Human Chess”

humanchess2Westerners used to their own version of chess will find the Vietnamese game a bit difficult to follow.The objective is the same – to capture or checkmate the King (in this case the General). Many of the pieces have their exact counterparts, while there are also a few pieces which are different. For example, the Vietnamese/Chinese version has no Queen, and a few of the pieces are restricted to a small section of the board. The initial set-up is different as well.

The grid of the chessboard is similar, but larger. The pieces do not occupy the spaces, as in western chess, but the points at the intersection of the lines which cross the board. Each side has five ranks and nine files. The General sits in the middle file of the back rank. On each of its side sit his mandarins, diagonally – the General is limited to the points beside them and the two ranks in front, an area known as the castle. To their sides are the elephants, which can only move two unoccupied points diagonally and no further than the fifth rank. Next to them are the horses, which move one point forward or sideways and one point diagonally. Finally, at the flanking files are the chariots. Like the rooks in western chess, they can move non-diagonally any number of points.

The two ranks in front of the horses are the two cannons, which move like chariots, except when capturing a piece. Then they have to leap a piece from either side, called the screen, to make the move. On every other point in the rank in front of the cannon stand the five soldiers. they move one point forward. But after the fifth rank, which is unoccupied in the beginning, a river divides one side from the other. Elephants may not cross the river. But when soldier cross the river they can then move one point sideway or forward.

The same kind of chess ground is used for human chess, the most spectacular form of the game. They dress in fancy costumes befitting their roles in the games, in contrasting colours. One side yellow and the other side red, the human chess pieces bear their own emblems on chest and back so that it may be easy for the spectators to follow the process of the match. Key pieces such as the General might wear different colors. The participants are usually adolescents, and the village elders choose them according to their moral standing in the community