Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Thai Chess and Cambodian Chess: An interview to Gary K. Gifford

Here you can see a picture of Gary K. Gifford with Makruk pieces that he made from beads. 
(Courtesy of Rosa Gifford)

Gary K. Gifford is a personal friend, UON Editor, the author of  The Bermuda Pie-Angle, Cartoons & Word Play and the author of  The Cosmic Submarine, an in- progress space opera.

                   “Temple on an Asteroid” by G. K. Gifford (c) 2007

When I realized he published a book on chess variants, I wanted to interview him for the blog. What follows is a Q&A session taken from a series of e-mail correspondence.

Q: When did your interest in chess variants start and how did it happen?

A: When I was in about eleventh grade (back in 1973)  I was a member of the high school chess club and I was once asked to referee a game of Kriegsspiel which fascinated me. But I never played the game. During that same era my parents bought a game called Feudal (which I still have)... and I enjoyed that a lot... even played it a few months ago at work with my boss.  So Feudal (made by the now defunct 3M Game Company) was the first variant that grabbed my attention.  Then in college there was Double-Bughouse (or Bughouse), where you have a partner, 2 chess boards, and your captured pieces go to your partner and visa versa.... and you can drop those on the board instead of moving one of your original pieces.  At some point I acquired a copy of Wayne Schmittberger's "New Rules for Classic Games."  That lead to me purchasing a Shogi set (Japanese Chess).  And I bumped into a man from Vietnam who taught Xianqi (Chinese Chess) to me. I really got into those two games.  By coincidence, a co-worker who was (is) a member of MENSA had also acquired Shogi and Xianqi and an intern from Vietnam arrived and soon we had a lot of Shogi and Xianqi going on.  I invented my own variant (Pillars of Medusa) as a game to be used in a [yet to be published] novel I wrote. I told a fellow game player about it and he suggested that I send it to the ChessVariants web site.  I did, and they helped me to get it on their site so it could be played on-line.  Later a software programmer created a Zillions of Games application hat allows a computer to play it.... anyway, I've probably rambled on a bit too much... but to add just a little more... I ended up creating about 56 chess variants, won two chess variants tournaments, and wrote a book about Makruk and Ouk Chatrang (Thai and Cambodian Chess).  I wrote the book because I went to buy a book on those variants and could find none... and I thought those games deserved to have a book. 

Q: Are Thai & Cambodian Chess more strategical games or does tactic prevail? 

A: There are tactics, of course... you have knight forks like in chess... and the King plus Rook mates will look the same.  But the Bishops move only one space diagonal or one space forward.  And the Queen moves only one space diagonally.  The King is a tough player in these games.   Pawns start on the third row and when they reach your opponents third row they turn into the weak Queens.  So, Tactics - Rook and Knight type tactics will be as in chess.  But with the short range Bishop and Short Range color-restricted Queens there is a whole new world of tactics.  And, of course, with only one long range piece (the rook) and the other factors briefly discussed, you can imagine (with little effort) that strategy must be very different than in chess.  One thing interesting is that you can pretty much play whatever opening moves you want, regardless of whether you have white or black.  This is possible due to the short ranges of the pieces (except rooks, as mentioned).  In the end phase of the game you can say that tactics are critical... because unlike chess, depending on the material you have you must deliver mate in a given number of moves...otherwise the game is drawn.  So, you must get your technique down,,, a wasted move can force a draw... in chess you can dilly dally if you have a big advantage against a lone king... not true in Makruk or Ouk Chatrang.  Note: Former World Chess Champion Kramnik played a game of Makruk.  He won... and he indicated that he liked the game and that it reminded him of endgame play.... which reminds me... Tempo is extremely important in these games.  You will really learn to appreciate Tempo. 

Q: If we consider an average amateur chess player, I mean someone rated around 1400, how long would it take to learn playing Thai & Cambodian Chess? 

A: Chess players can pretty much sit at the board and play these games within minutes.  They are extremely easy for chess players to learn. 

Q: If I learn to play Thai & Cambodian Chess, where can I play online chess? A: You can play at these sites, and possibly others: -  www.chessvariants.org   -  good for slow correspondence -  http://www.playok.com/en/makruk/    -  great for real time -   http://www.schemingmind.com   -  good for slow correspondence Is there a way to play against an engine?  Zillions of Games has Makruk There is a free application called "Peace Thai Chess Master" - If you download it be sure to do so from a trusted website... like ones with the Green WOT (Web of Trust) symbol. 

Q: Where can one purchase your book on Thai & Cambodian Chess? 

A: Thai Chess & Cambodian Chess (Makruk & Ouk Chatrang)  can be found at:  -   www.Amazon.com     www.Lulu.com     there is also an ouk.asia site... but I don't know much about that site and I only found out today that they list my book 

 Q: Are you still planning to publish more books on chess related subjects? 

A: I have a slight urge to write two more books on the topic of games (chess variants) and possibly a few chess books.  But at the moment I am wrapping up a novel, then there is a submarine book, and also a fantasy art book.... so it may be a while before another game book surfaces. 
Well, I thank Gary for his answers and I wish him good luck for all these works in progress.
In closing here is a Makruk “mate-in-3” from one of Gary Gifford's games. We thank him for sharing it.

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