Human Chess

Nha Trang Travel Blog

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The board
 

On my Vietnam Airline flight into Nha Trang, the inflight magazine Heritage published an interesting story about human chess. I recognized it as the unfamiliar game that I had seen here last year. Like then, a match will be played today and tomorrow (the second and third days of Tet). As I made a bicycle sweep around the block in a random 'Activity Check' I noticed the canvas 'board' being rolled out in front of the stage on the April 2 Square. While I lingered, colorful flags were set up, two side-board towers were jockeyed into position, and a cyclo arrived with a delivery of blue adult-sized plastic chairs. The cyclo driver did not understand my off-beat remark about checkers.

 

I wished that I had kept the Heritage issue.

Chess players
Human chess is played throughout Vietnam in holiday festivities, usually on lines drawn out on grass at a park, communal house, pagoda, or any open field. A referee and two 'generals' are selected well in advance by the organizers. Traditionally, those three are somewhat affluent so that they can provide the thirty-two players with meals and refreshments.

 

The game in Vietnam adheres to the general rules of Chinese chess and varies slightly from western chess, though the intended goal is the same. The board itself is of a different size with different pieces including guards and cannons. Sixteen players on each side wear traditional red or blue costumes marked with a Chinese character to identify a certain chess piece.

 

When I returned in the evening, the game was in progress.

Blue player
I had missed the three drum-rolls that started the action and couldn't get very close to it. I was able to tilt upward on my toes to get just a few pictures over the heads of the crowd surrounding the board. Apparently, when a general calls a play, two opposing pieces battle it out in an impressive display of martial arts. Only if his piece wins the battle does the move proceed while the defeated piece leaves the game. I didn't stick around to see who won the match which usually takes about two hours. You need to arrive very early to get a board-side view.

 

An emcee in traditional golden dress, possibly the referee, announced results of the battles and marked them on a large board up on the stage so that everyone could see how the game was going. Were it not for that board, the entire game would be played in two dimension from eye level.

Lord_Mike says:
They hold this at the Minnesota Rennaissance Festival every year, but with Medieval knights and lords....
Posted on: Feb 13, 2009
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The board
The board
Chess players
Chess players
Blue player
Blue player
Human chess
Human chess
Blue player going down
Blue player going down
Blue man on top
Blue man on top
Blue man out
Blue man out
Chairs arrive
Chairs arrive
Chess match crowd
Chess match crowd
Flag and guard
Flag and guard
Red player
Red player
Pre-game
Pre-game
Emcee or referee
Emcee or referee
Nha Trang
photo by: rotorhead85