History of chess in Belarus

Ладдзя пачатку XII стагоддзя з Ваўкавыску. Фота: belgazprombank.by
Rook of the beginning of the XII century from Vaŭkavysk

Chess is one of the oldest games in the world. From time immemorial, chess was admired in Belarus too: it was considered a game of kings and aristocrats. In chess games, noble people confirmed their dignity, testing mental strength and attentiveness.

Chess originated in ancient India somewhere in the 5th-6th centuries AD. The Arabs borrowed the game from there. Due to them, around the 8th-9th centuries, chess came to Europe in various ways. Medieval Europeans liked the game so much that in the 11th century chess was considered one of the most widespread entertainments of the nobility and was even included in the program of knightly education!

At the same time, our ancestors were also fond of chess. It has been archaeologically confirmed that the games were held among the princes of the Polack and Turaŭ principalities. Chess pieces of this time were found literally in every city of Belarus. And the largest number of discovered pieces from Eastern Europe was found just in Belarus.

The king of the XII-XIII centuries was found in Brest. Bone, carving. Photo zviazda.by
A 16th-century rook found during excavations in the Old Castle in Hrodna. Deerhorn, carving. Photo grodnonews.by

The oldest chess piece in Eastern Europe was found at the site of ancient Minsk.

Ферзь XII стагоддзя з Лукомля. Фота: harodnia.com
Queen of the XII century from Lukoml. Photo harodnia.com

The tradition of moving pieces on squares, simulating the struggle for power, was continued during the time of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In the Middle Ages, the game was in its prime: Vitaut's circle was fond of chess, Barbara Radzivil played chess, Lieŭ Sapieha had his own set of pieces.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Belarusians did not lose interest in chess, on the contrary – the game became really fashionable, and Belarus began to be considered a chess country. The prevalence of chess in a country can be a sign of the intellectual level of the nation.

Месцы, дзе на тэрыторыі сучаснай Беларусі знаходзМесцы, дзе на тэрыторыі сучаснай Беларусі знаходзілі шахматныя фігуркі. Колькасць знойдзеных фігур адлюстравана кружочкамі.ілі шахматныя фігуркі
Places of discovery of chess pieces on the territory of modern Belarus. The number of found pieces is marked by red dots.


A classic game with a new meaning

Unfortunately, not a single set of that magnates’ chess has survived to this day, but correspondence and archaeological finds have allowed us to recreate this game...

In the late 1990s, Aliaksandr Astroŭski, a professor at the Hrodna Medical University, invented chess on the basis of classical one, with a significant deepening of the plot. In 2010 Mikalaj Tamaševič finalized the rules of the game, added political and cultural features from the history of Belarus and Eastern Europe, revived the old names of the pieces.

Дошка 9х9 клетак у Беларускіх шахматах, замест дошкі 8х8 у класічных. Сінім колерам пазначаны палац, чырвоным - трон.
A 9x9 board in Belarusian chess instead of an 8x8 board in classical chess. The Palace is marked in blue, the Throne is in red.

Features. The game has a completely different goal compared to "classical" chess - not to kill the king, but to gain power: to ascend the Throne and hold out for one move without announcing a Rokash. The details have also changed:

  • The Belarusian and Litvin board is one row larger than the usual one, its size is 81 squares (9 x 9);
  • A new piece has been added to the game - the Kniažyč, the heir to the Kniaź;
  • If the Kniaź leaves the field, the Kniažyč may take his place. For this, a separate coronation is carried out;
  • When a Kniaź or a Kniažyč ascends the Throne, he can be declared a Rokash. Rokash is announced - the piece must leave the Throne or hide behind another piece;


Месцазнаходжанне Князя на дошцы. Сінімі кругамі паказаны яго хады.
The location of the Kniaź on the board. The blue dots show his moves.

Kniaź. In classical chess – the king.
According to tradition, from the very beginning, he examines the field of action from the center of the first row from the edge. Confidently approaches power.

  • Place on the field: E1 - white; E9 - black;
  • Moves in any direction (including diagonally) one square;
  • Kniaź can occupy the Throne and make a castling.


Месцазнаходжанне Княжыча на дошцы і яго хады
Kniažyč's location on the board and his moves

Kniažyč. A new piece on the field.
Stands to the left of the Kniaź. He has less power for that, but more freedom of self-determination, as it should be. He is cunning, intriguing, and at the same time fiercely defending his ruler - perhaps the most multifaceted person in the game.

  • Place on the field: D1 - white; F9 - black;
  • Moves in any direction (including diagonally) one or two squares;
  • Can occupy the Throne and step over it.
Так выглядаюць Князі і Княжычы у "Шляхетнай" версіі Беларускіх шахмат. Гліна, мастацкая расфарбоўка.
This is how the Kniaź and Kniažyč look in the "Noble" version of the Belarusian chess. Clay, art painting.
Месцазнаходжанне Гетмана на дошцы і яго хады
Hietman's position on the board and his moves

Hietman. In classical chess – the queen.
Hietman stands on the right of the Kniaź. On the field he feels confident and free, he can lead an army from every point specified by you (or the Kniaź).

  • Place on the field: F1 - white; D9 - black;
  • Moves in any direction (including diagonally) and at any distance.


Месца Гарматы на дошцы і яе хады
Harmata’s place on the board and its moves

Harmata. In classical chess – an elephant, an officer, or a bishop.
On the eve of the battle, the Harmata is located to the right of the left Laddzia or Hietman. With strong and accurate shots, it confidently removes the enemy from the Throne, shaking the air with powder explosions.

  • Place on the field: B1, G1 - white; C9, H9 - black;
  • Moves diagonally in any direction at any distance.


Месца Вершніка на полі і яго хады
The Vieršnik’s place on the field and his moves

Vieršnik. In classical chess – the knight.
Vieršnik thunders silver armor to the left of the Kniažyč or the right Laddzia. Terrifies the advancing enemy army. The pride and wings of the principality.

  • Place on the field: C1, H1 - white; B9, G9 - black;
  • Moves two squares in any direction: up, down, left, or right, then one square perpendicular to the original line of movement.
Выгляд Гетмана, Гарматы і Вершніка ў Шляхетнай версіі шахмат. Гліна, мастацкая расфарбоўка.
This is how Hietman, Harmata and Vieršnik look in the "Noble" version of chess. Clay, art painting.
Месца Ладдзі на полі і яго хады
Place of the Laddzia on the field and its moves

Laddzia. In classical chess – the rook.
Laddzia is waiting in the wings at the port - one of the corners of the board. Landlocked Laddzia is rebuilt into a defensive Vieža. Helps the Kniaź during castling. 

  • Place on the field: A1, I1 - white; A9, I9 - black;
  • Moves straight in any direction at any distance.
Месца Ратнікаў на полі і іх першапачатковыя хады
Place of Ratniks on the field and their initial moves


Ratnik. In classical chess – a pawn.
Stands in an armed formation in front of other fighters. Cautiously but persistently advances in a straight line.

  • Place on the field: row No. 2 - white, No. 8 - black;
  • Moves one square forward. Can "jump" over two squares, if he has not yet moved. Attacks one square diagonally;
  • Reaching the last square vertically can be transformed into any piece that is not on the field.
    When Ratnik has reached the last square, and all the other pieces are still on the field, it can make a transformation later - when some pieces leave the army. The move of his reincarnation should be considered a separate move.

The right to occupy the Throne is the right of Kniaź or Kniažyč. The solemn ascent is accompanied by a loud shout - "Throne!". If the Throne is a battered field (a field square where the opponent's figure can move to attacking a figure from your army), you can't pounce on it.

The Kniažyč could not ascend the Throne, because the Kniaź was not in the palace. After the Kniaź entered the palace, the Kniažyč took the Throne.
The Kniažyč could not stand on the Throne, because the square was beaten by Ratnik.

Only Kniažyč can step over the Throne, defending his rights to power. The other figures have no right to "jump" over the Throne.

Так выглядае ўзыходжанне Князя на Трон у "Падарункавай версіі" Беларускіх шахмат
This is what the Kniaź's ascent to the Throne looks like in the "Gift Set" of Belarusian Chess

Rokash. In the history of Belarus - an official revolt against the king, dissatisfaction with the one who is on the Throne. In Belarusian chess, the attack on the occupied Throne is also called "Rokash".
After the proclamation of the Rokash, the piece on the Throne must resign. Any other figure can protect it from attack.

An interesting example of the struggle for power. Black Kniažyč took the Throne, white Hietman tried to overthrow him, proclaiming Rokash, but the black Hietman defended his lord. Then the white Laddzia tried again to announce Rokash but was killed by the black Kniaź. As a result, the white Ratnik still managed to leave Kniažyč from the Throne.
The Black Prince occupies the Throne and no other piece has time to announce Rokash to him. Victory!

Victory. Victory is proclaimed by shouting "The Throne is mine!" and corresponds to at least one of the following points:

  • Kniaź or Kniažyč confidently held the Throne for one move, the shocked opponent did not dare to announce Rokash;
  • you announced checkmate to the opponent;
  • one of the players admits defeat;
  • game time is up.
Download rules in .PDF

The project has been developed for 10 years in order to restore the political and military traditions of Belarus and of all Eastern Europe. The result - Belarusian and Litvin chess or simply Belarusian chess is a new kind of intellectual games, presented in three formats - a gift seta noble set and a computer version.

The project is in three dimensions

"Belarusian Chess" exists in digital, noble and gift versions. Get to know them.