According to the Wikipedia article of Magic: The Gathering, creator Dr. Richard Garfield has compared the evolution of the game from luck to skill as being similar to that of chess.

According to Dr. Garfield, Magic has and would likely continue decreasing its degree of luck as the game matured. The "Mulligan rule", as well as card design, past vs. present, are good examples of this trend. He feels that this is a universal trend for maturing games. Dr. Garfield explained using chess as an example, that unlike modern chess, in predecessors, players would use dice to determine which chess piece to move.

However, the article on Chess doesn't mention dice in its history. Did predecessors to modern chess indeed use dice? And if so, was it removed as part of a maturation of design to emphasize skill over luck, as Dr. Garfield suggests?

  • 2
    Dice can be used for the starting position of Chess960 (Fischer Random Chess), but I don't know how dice would have been used in early chess. Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 19:02

3 Answers 3


Richard Eales addresses this question in Chess: The History of a Game (p.30):

On one last matter, whether or not the early Indian chess was played with dice, there is simply no evidence on which to base a general conclusion. Al-Biruni saw dice being used in the four-handed game (throw two to move the chariot, three for the horse, and so on), but this is a practice which continually crops up in the history of pre-modern chess, particularly when gambling was involved. The Chatrang-namak described chatrang as a game of pure skill but the dice were not unknown in Islam, and certainly reappeared more frequently in medieval Europe. There is no clue preserved in the structure of the game to betray whether the 'original' chess was played with dice or not.

So it seems that this question is one on which we should remain agnostic.

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    Not that it helps much, but I recall an line from some medieval drama where someone who has been challenged to a game of chess asks "shall it be with dice, my lord?" I also recall that using or not using dice influenced the attitude of the clergy at a tie whihen playing games of chance was forbidden
    – Philip Roe
    Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 21:02
  • Not only al-Biruni reported about a Chatarunga variation with dices (for four players), but also ar-Raghib al-Asfahani and many other Muslim authors, as Yuri Averbakh mentioned in his "A history of chess" in which he discusses choices and opinions of other chess-historians and shows his own opinion.
    – Medi1Saif
    Commented Nov 21, 2023 at 11:47

The strongest circumstantial evidence I know of is from Alfonso X's Libro de los Juegos ("Game Book") from the year 1283. It has a description of a chess variant played on a 12x12 board with 8 different types of pieces, and describes how to make 8-sided dice as an optional part of the game.

It also mentions a 10x10 variant with 7 different pieces, and how to make/use 7-sided dice.

So playing chess with dice wasn't unthinkable. Since they went to the trouble of describing new dice for the new variants, it makes me suspect that using 6-sided dice for 'normal' chess had to be at least moderately common.


Dice came first, then backgammon and chess followed. Chess was banned in Islam and Christendom for over a century because of gambling. Every 100 years a Mullah's convention was held and chess scholars petitioned for chess to be allowed without the dice. They were refused and 100 years later another plea was made and this time it was allowed. As a result the use of the dice has disappeared from chess histories and folk memory. Gambling still occurs with backgammon but not with chess. The first recorded dice with the modern configuration (opposite sides add up to 7) is in China 3,000 years ago. Previous dice use symbols rather than numbers. After crooked dice were outlawed on the Silk Road there was demand games involving 6, hence backgammon and chess.

  • All very interesting, but doesn't actually answer the question. Could you please edit it to answer the OP's question?
    – Brian Towers
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 11:44

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