Senterej: Chess with Ethiopian Flavor

Senterej - Ethiopian Chess

Dr. René Gralla has done an interesting piece on a version of chess called “Senterej” which originates in ancient Abyssinia (Ethiopia). Gralla contends:

Historians and experts in cultural studies always look towards India, Persia and Arabia – and some even turn to China, more recently – when they search for the origins of chess. But with regard to Africa it is a sobering fact that up to now the science of chess has stubbornly ignored that continent which is the cradle of mankind.

Africa remains a white spot in the relevant publications so far. That is deplorable since Africa has contributed its own creative and very entertaining version to the universe of chess: the Ethiopian variant “Senterej” that has emerged parallel to the hitherto well-known lines of development.

A few differences in Senterej are significant. Each player can move as quickly as they want without waiting for the other to respond. The king and queen do not face each other and there is a different piece in the shape of an elephant. There is no castling and the pawn cannot move two squares at any time. No en passant and underpromotion is based on replacing a piece only if it has been captured by the opponent. Another very interesting point is that checkmates are not considered equal.

Queen Nefertari of Egypt playing chess.

Queen Nefertari of Egypt playing Senet.

The Chess Drum has run a couple of pieces on the origins of chess and there are many different versions including Senet, an Egyptian board game. Of course “chaturanga” and “shatranj” are probably the most familiar predecessors of the game we play today. Senterej seems to have much in common with these games.

Taytu Betul – Empress of Ethiopia

I discussed this issue with Dr. Gralla and raised the issue of whether chess was spread through commerce and expedition. It would be hard to understand how these games were created independent of each other. Perhaps the question is not whose version is first, but more important is the contribution each version has made to the game we play today.

He also highlights some important figures in Senterej such as Taytu Betul (ca. 1851-1918). According to the article, “she was the third of four children in an aristocratic Ethiopian family that was related to the Solomonic Dynasty – the traditional Imperial House of Ethiopia, claiming descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Taytu Betul married King Menelik of Shewa, later Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia.”

Read the interesting article at ChessBase,
Senterej – Ethiopian chess with a flying start


  1. Wow! Here come the Africans!!! Bang your Drums, Sound your horns, Blow the Trumphets the whole world has to “bear witness”. Chess for Change! Some of theses people are really funny they actually thought they were gunna leave us out! hehe. India did their thing , China ,now we are here.

  2. Injera bread and spicy dal? awee thats cold blooded brother Shabazz, now i know i gotta try that if you said it!! Thats a very informative article how close this form of chess is to ours, where we dont wait on white to move and we just igore 1e4! and just play our own game with 1e5!!! hehe

  3. Were you tempted to try the kitfo? I’ve had it a few times at a place here in Dallas. Finger licking good – literally !

  4. Yeah Nikita the beautiful You huh? Well the rest of the world dont want you to know about this information so they try to keep it from you ,its nice to have the chessdrum as a communicative vehicle for Africans throughout the diaspora and the rest of the world can receive the truth as well. Nikita they gotta a lot of federations all over the world and you would think that they actually know something, but our father moves in mysterious ways! Nikita heres a lil trick if you go to the Chess Life May 1999 they will tell you about how Gm Ashley meet their requirements for their organizations but read on and you will see your own Black Science across the page ! cmon now you know our father works in 2’s sun-moon man-woman etc. cmon now! If you get chessbase 2009 check out topolov-anand grand slam 2008 game They give 15…Na6! idea Nc7-Ne6-with Ng5 in the note Vishy errored with 21…Qe8? They know the “transboard knight” idea from the Chessdrum but they gunna try and write us outta chess history but we gotta a lil mo for them. Yo nige short you ok? hehe! theses people are really funny.

  5. Nikita,

    I really didn’t mention Queen Nefatari in the article. The picture with was merely to show another ancient form of chess which is known as Senet. The picture of the Queen is a beautiful rendition however.

  6. Lionel,

    You are assuming two things… people have access 1999 Chess Life in foreign countries and that all the readers here are Black. Nikita is a white South African and runs a blog called “chessalee”. In fact, most viewers of The Chess Drum are outside of the U.S. and are not of African descent. When you refer to “your own Black Science” and using first-person pronouns “we” “us” in your post, make sure you understand that you may be addressing people who will not understand what you are talking about. The Chess Drum is visited in over 200 countries and most of the viewers outside of the U.S. come from European and Asian countries.

  7. hi Daaim!
    Yes, it was only mentioned as a caption by the image, but still very “cute” hey! I love it. and I like your blog too!

  8. haha thanks!!! 200 Coutries Wow didnt know that, but i know the russians, germans, and norwegians and british are here played them all on the icc. Peace.

  9. Political Pete thanks for bringing this topic up again its easy to forget! I would like to know what do you mean?

  10. wow! found this article by accident (don’t really visit chessdrum as much as i should). i am a “recovering african american” that loves to play shogi and this article’s info will be quite useful in my exposing sistas & bruthas in da hood to something other than the 1 form of chess most of us are exposed to! props to the poster.

  11. The following are some of my not-all- serious reasons for playin Shogi in da hood:
    1) “black moves first” (well, actually it’s Sente)
    2) plays like dominoes and spades with “pieces in hand”
    3) computers “can’t touch dis”…at least not on the professional level
    4) promotes more interaction among players of varying strenghts with proscribed “handicaps” (potential for more “co-operative” orientation as opposed to “competition”)
    5) more “right brain” oriented…sistas should love this!

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