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Splendid Antique Mongolian “Shatar” Chess Set

Well conceived and hand-carved. Includes hand-made box and felt board.

(Provincial, Turn of the century as dated by “motor vehicle” tereg design and the distinctive red and yellow Buddhist colouring of opposing pieces.)

Throughout history Mongolians have maintained a very high regard for the game of chess – it embodies strategy, wisdom and adversity. Mongolian chess exists in two variants and the Mongolian names for them are as follows: the little one – shatar, the big one – hiashatar. The word “shatar” derives from name of Arabian chess “shatranj”. Presumably since the chess game came to Mongolia from Arabia through Iran and along the ancient Silk Road at the time of the Mongol Empire.

It is a Mongolian tradition chess ought be played in a peaceful and respectful atmosphere. During the game the chess players sometimes become completely immersed but nevertheless they continue to control their emotions, and the game practically never turns into a quarrel. It is also considered innappropriate behaviour to boast of victory. There are many Mongolian myths and legends which refer to the game of chess and its mastery. For example, according to the popular Mongolian folklore the most passionate chess players have a very long life!!!

In many ways the attributes of single-pointed concentration and meditative action that embody the Mongolian approach to chess aligns well with their Buddhist practises. Wisdom and its expression being an important milestone along the path to enlightenment.

Mongolian have following names for their chess pieces:

Typically, both hand-carved horse (knight) and camel (bishop) are presented in both their male and female aspect - as is expected in an authentic traditional set such as this. The distinctive and creative approach taken by Mongolians to portraying pawns in the opposing sets is remarkable and rarely seen. In antique chess sets we generally see the original paintwork has faded with age and handling – the pieces even retain that smell steeped in butter oil smoke from centuries in a nomadic context.

Interestingly, the design symbolism of Mongolian pawn pieces can sometimes align with aspects of the Mongolian traditional Nadaam festivals and competitions – where through perseverance, skill, “right attitude and destiny the humblest competitor e can progress to be champion (ie like the pawn can become a queen):

Mongolian wood carving

In authentic old Mongolian chess sets, the hand-carved pieces are absolutely unique and representative of the very best provincial artwork. Mongolian craftsmen possessed a deep knowledge of animal anatomy that allowed strong through carving in the round. This predominance of animalistic motives and thorough knowledge of animal habits are the main feature of Mongolian wood sculpture. This has translated well into their chess sets.

The powerful feel and unique and imaginative design of the best pieces aligns with their pre-industrial and nomadic provenance. The chess masters would often have lovingly carved by hand their pieces as they patiently herded their livestock across Mongolia ’s vast and remote landscape. It is this spacious outlook that is instilled in the “presence” of the best pieces!


In the Mongolian game of Shatar, there exist regional variations in the rules of the game, and participants usually specify the rules before the beginning of game. A general description of the rules is at the following internet sites:

  1. Mongolian Chess.
  2. Mongolian Chess.

Detailed Rules of Mongolian Chess can be also be downloaded as a booklet here.

Size of Largest Piece: -Approximately 2 inches (8 cm) H

Box Size: 7 inches (18 cm) W X Same

Box Height: 4.5 inches (11.5 cm) Tall

Board Size: 16 inches (40 cm) W SAME

Weight: 3 lbs (1.5 kilos)


If you would like to see more pictures, please don't hesitate to ask and I will send you a zip file full of them.


All rights reserved.  Mongoliancollectables. 2007/2208/2009