Maharajah and the Sepoys, also known as Shatranj Diwana Shah or the Mad King’s Game, is a well-known chess variant originating in 19th century India. This variant features distinct armies for both White and Black players. Notably, the game has been solved, and it has been determined that Black possesses a guaranteed win. Another name for this variant is Maharajah chess.
Yes, that’s true, the game is solved, and the statistical data confirm the clear advantage of Black. For instance, more than 61% of finished games of this variant on BrainKing.com were won by the player who led their army against the lone Maharajah. It would be a lot more if people always knew the winning strategy. Despite that, the game can still be fun, especially when the Maharajah breaks through the opponent’s flanks, and starts to wreak havoc on their unprepared defenses.
This starting position is displayed in the diagram above. White Black plays with the standard set of pieces, White has only one – the Maharajah. It possesses the combined abilities of a queen, a knight, and a king. The objective of both sides is to checkmate the opponent, and it’s clear that checkmating the very mobile Maharajah means some challenge for Black.
The key vulnerability of the Maharajah in this game is its regal status, which restricts its ability to engage in piece exchanges. Consequently, it is unable to capture black pieces that are adequately guarded by other pieces. As a result, the Sepoys’ effective strategy for achieving victory involves executing moves that maintain the protection of their pieces while progressively limiting the available squares for the Maharajah’s movement.
Let me present a sample game from our database. I will use the symbol of the white queen to mark the Maharajah’s moves:
1. ♕a5 h5 2. ♕e5 a5 3. ♕b5 h4 4. ♕e5 d5
White’s strategy is to stay close to the black army, waiting for an opportunity to exploit any weakness. Black ensures that none of their pieces becomes unprotected.
5. ♕g5 ♛d6 6. ♕e3 ♝d7 7. ♕b3 b5 8. ♕d4 c5+
The first check in the game. The Maharajah must retreat. It is important for Black that White cannot make a knight-jump to get behind the pawn line.
9. ♕e3 e5 10. ♕g5 ♞a6 11. ♕d2 ♝e7 12. ♕xa5
It seems that Black overlooked something. The Maharajah captured the pawn at a5, and threatens to jump to b7, the only unprotected square in the Black’s camp. The opponent must counter the threat.
12. … ♜b8 13. ♕d2 ♞b4 14. ♕b3 ♞f6 15. ♕a3 ♛a6+
The Sepoys fight back, and their long-range pieces get to the attacking positions.
16. ♕e3 ♞g4+ 17. ♕f3 ♜a8 18. ♕b3 ♛a1
White’s getting surrounded. The end is inevitable.
19. ♕d2 ♜h6 20. ♕g2 ♛d1 21. ♕b2 ♛c2#
And this is it. The Maharajah succumbed to his woulds, and was defeated.