During my years in primary school, I lived in a crowded neighbourhood in Saphan Khwai. The older folks there invariably whiled away their time playing Chinese chess, and I grew up inheriting a passion for this chess variant, much like the way today's school children are hooked on computer games. Since none of the other kids of my age were into the game, I resorted to playing against older opponents. So excessive was my chess fascination that it became my mother's displeasure. After countless rounds of rebuke and Asian-styled caning punishment from my mother who was very concerned with my scholastic performance, I finally got over the addiction. I went on with life like the rest of the boys; except that a couple of years later I had the chance to play a game against another older player who was my brother's friend. The guy was a championship player, and he gave me handicap by taking out his knights. I employed the simple strategy of swapping away the pieces and managed to win the game. That victory concluded my early experience with chess.

Fast forward to the 1990s, before the Asian financial meltdown, when my graphic design business was enjoying the good years and I could afford a sizable staff. Many of the male workers played Thai chess during the lunch break. The intensity of the players and the crackling of the wooden chessmen against the board got me interested. I got down playing a few games. Needless to say, I lost every game. But I got to learn a thing or two about Thai chess. During a brief New Year holiday, with spare time and nothing to do, I had the idea of combining Thai and Chinese chess into a new game – something that would give me an upper hand if played against the guys who had so mercilessly crushed me in Thai chess! So why not include international chess as well? I thought. Being until then quite ignorant about international chess, I did some finding out about its rules and strategies. When I read about "castling" where the King and a Rook are transposed in what counts as one move, I thought "What a stupid rule! It's crazy!" But soon after, I began to see the strengths and drawbacks of each variant. Wouldn't it be fun to have a game that combines the good points of all three? That was how I came up with the Oxeli concepts.


An empty rank is designated between the major pieces and the pawns in Oxeli. This arrangement emulates the Thai style which has a looser formation. The empty rank makes it possible to advance any of the major pieces right away, without having to first move the pawns out of the way. The playing field is even looser in Chinese chess where all, except the corner pieces (the Chariots), can be maneuvered from their starting positions without obstructions.

The choice of which pieces to use is also based on Thai chess. All traditional variants have Knights and Rooks (equivalent to Chinese Chariots or Thai 'Rua'); so these are maintained and placed at the corners of the board. Chinese and international versions have long-range weapons in two Cannons, two Bishops and a Queen. The Cannon captures an enemy piece by leaping over an intervening piece to take its target. The Bishop is for long-range diagonal attacks. The most powerful is the Queen which works like a Rook-and-Bishop combination, and whose long-range prowess therefore necessitates the allowance for castling in international chess. In contrast, most of the Thai pieces have short-range powers: for example, the Khone can advances one square in three forward direction, and retreats diagonally two squares at a time, and the Med is allowed to be nudged diagonally one-square.

So, in order to provide more long-range capabilities, I replaced the Thai pair of Khones with the Chinese pair of Cannons, and extended the single-square range of the Thai Med (Bishop) to any number of squares. The result is Oxeli, a game that is a sibling of Thai and Chinese chess and cousin of international chess, on a checkerboard playing field. After a number of experimental try-outs, I'm convinced that this invention of mine has so far enabled me to compete more equitably against some of the best Thai chess players I have come across.

 

 


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prinya@oxelichess.com