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(Essay #20)
(Please be advised that all of the information in this essay is derived solely from the Gor novels by John Norman. This essay is intended to compile information from numerous different books in the Gorean series to depict the nature of Kaissa on Gor.)
Kaissa is the Gorean word for "game." It is a general term that can refer to any type of game but when it is used without qualification, it means only one game, Gorean chess. This is a game very similar to Earth chess though there are numerous differences as well. Kaissa is a very popular game and almost all civilized Goreans, of whatever caste, play. There are many Kaissa clubs and competitions. Lists of important competitions and tournaments are commonly kept in each city's Cylinder of Documents. Most city libraries have many scrolls of Kaissa strategy and techniques.
Kaissa is played differently throughout Gor. Some cities use different pieces or similar pieces with different abilities. But, eventually most cities accepted standard tournament rules, helping to unify and standardize playd. These rules were agreed upon by the High Council of the Caste of Players and officially promulgated by the Merchant Caste in 10124 C.A. at the En'Kara fair. Standardized Kaissa may also be known as Merchant Kaissa, Player Kaissa or Kaissa of the En'Kara. Unfortunately, though much information is given about the game, the novels do not provide a complete set of rules for playing Kaissa.
Kaissa uses a red and yellow hundred-squared board, with ten ranks and ten files. This is opposed to the normal Earth chessboard of sixty-four squares with eight ranks and files. In Kaissa, there are twenty pieces to each side as opposed to sixteen in Earth chess. One side is yellow and the other is red. The pieces in standardized Kaissa include six Spearmen, a Ubar and Ubara, two Tarnsman, two Scribes, two Riders of the High Tharlarion, two Initiates, two Physicians and two Builders. Pieces in other versions of Kaissa included pieces such as Assassins and Spear Slaves. The physicaql descriptions of each piece are not given in the books thus we could only speculate on what they might look like. Possibly like chess, each piece could look different depending on the specific Kaissa set.
The pieces are set us thusly in Standardized Kaissa. On your rear rank, from your left to right, the pieces are: Initiate, Builder, Scribe, Tarnsman, Ubara, Ubar, Tarnsman, Scribe, Builder, Initiate. On your second rank, from your left to right, the pieces are: Physician, Rider of the High Tharlarion, Spearman, Spearman, Spearman, Spearman, Spearman, Spearman, Rider of the High Tharlarion, Physician. Your opponent sets up his piecesin the same manner.
The object of the game is the capture of your opponent's Home Stone. The Home Stone is not officially a piece as it cannot capture though it is able to move one square at a time. It does not start on the board but must be placed on or before the tenth move. Such a placement counts as your move for that turn. It must be placed on your rear rank. Thus, you cannot place the Home Stone before your second turn as your rear rank is full of pieces on your first turn. In other versions of Kaissa, such as was once played in Ar, the Home Stone must be placed by the seventh turn. The Home Stone has also been called the City in some versions, such as once played in Ar. The timing and positioning of the Home Stone has many strategies and disagreements. Some players favor early or late placements. Others favor corner or central placements. The corner placement exposes the Home Stone to only three lines of attack but limits its mobility. A more central placement exposes it to five lines of attacks but provides it with more movement options.
Yellow moves first which is a major advantage. This is similar to the advantage of white which moves first in Earth chess. Players of equal strength, when they move second, usually try for a draw. Who plays Yellow can be decided in various ways, though the most usual method is to guess which hand holds a certain color Spearsman.
In standardized Kaissa, the pieces move in certain ways and possess certain abilities. In other versions, the movement of these pieces and their abilities may vary. Unfortunately, the novels do not detail the movement abilities of each piece. The movement abilities of some pieces can be deduced from the games depicted in the books. Beasts of Gor and Players of Gor are the two best references for this. Spearmen are similar in some ways to chess pawns. Spearmen have an initial move option of one, two or three spaces forward. After their initial move, they can only move one space at a time either forward, diagonally forward or sideways. They cannot retreat. They may only capture diagonally. A Spearman who reaches the rear rank of his enemy has the option of being promoted to a Tarnsman or Rider of the High Tharlarion. Tarnsmen can only move one space on a positioning move and can only attack on a flight move. Tarnsman can move over their own pieces. Initiates may move diagonally any amount of spaces. Scribes move diagonally. Riders of the High Thalarion may move one space in any direction. A Ubar may move any amount of spaces in any direction. A Ubara may move any amount of spaces in any direction. Builders may move forward, backward or sideways any amount of spaces.
As in Earth chess, there are many standard openings in Kaissa. An opening is the first few moves in a game and they set the style of play for that game. An opening can consist of up to a dozen moves or even more. One of the most common openings is for Yellow to move their Ubar's Spearman to Ubar Five and then for Red to respond identically. The Centian Opening is one of the strongest openings in the game. In that opening, Yellow moves Ubar's Tarnsman to Physician Seven. Red experiences acute problems in development especially of their Ubar's Scribe. The Ubara's Gambit is one of the most wicked and merciless Kaissa openings. It is the most common single opening used by masters. It is difficult to meet and if Red can achieve equality by the twentieth move, he is considered successful. Other openings include the Two Tarnsmen Opening and the Ubar's Tarnsman's Gambit.
There are also a number of standard defenses used by Red. These include such defenses as the Torian Defense, Center Defense, Telnus Defense, Turian Defense, Two Spearman variation of the Ubar's Scribe's Defense, and the Hogar Variation of the Centian. There are many scrolls listing hundreds of openings and defenses for Kaissa.
In Torvaldsland, they play their own version of Kaissa. They have a great passion for the game, even greater than those in the south. They sometimes settle disputes over the Kaissa board rather than with weapons. Some pieces differ in their game. The Jarl, their most powerful piece and the Jarl's Woman, more powerful than the Ubara, are used instead of an Ubar and Ubara. Instead of Tarnsmen there are two Axes. They have no Initiates but have Rune-Priests. They do not have Scribes but have a piece, the Singer, which moves similarly. Their Spearmen move identically as in the southern game. Instead of a a Home Stone, there is a Hall. A powerful opening in Torvaldsland is the Jarl's Axe Gambit similar to the Ubar's Tarnsman Gambit.
The Players Caste consists of those who earn their living playing Kaissa. They are not a real Caste or clan. They are made of men, of exceptional ability, of various castes who have only the game in common.
"They are men who commonly have an extraordinary aptitude for the game but beyond this men who have become drunk on it, men lost in the subtle, abstract liquors of variation, pattern and victory, men who live for the game, who want it and need it as other men might want gold, or others power and women, or others the rolled, narcotic strings of toxic kanda." (Assassin of Gor, p.27)
Players are entitled to wear red and yellow checked robes, their Caste colors, and a similarly colored cap. It is illegal in a number of cities to enslave one of the caste of Players, a rule similar to the one against enslaving musicians and poets. In other cities, it is simply a matter of custom not to enslave Players. Though some Tournament prizes can be very rich, most Players only make meager livings.
They play on the streets playing all comers at Kaissa booths. You pay to play, a copper tarsk to a tarsk bit, and if you win or draw the game is free. Such street odds are usually one to forty, one copper tarn disk to a forty-weight, or sometimes a eighty-weight. Sometimes the Player must also grant concessions to the opponent such as three consecutive moves at some point or playing without a certain piece. Some Players even lose a game on occasion to draw attention. The best places to play are the higher bridges in the area of the richest cylinders. The positions are determined by games done between the Players themselves. Players find it hard to get loans and innkeepers want them to pay in advance. Some Players also earn money annotating games, preparing scrolls on the game, and teaching others.
Players are proud men though. They will often carry their wallet, or leather bag, filled with their Kaissa pieces slung over their left shoulder like a warrior would carry his sword. Their Player ratings, which show their ranking compared to other Players, are carefully kept and are a matter of public record. There is no information given on exactly what this ranking system entails. Earth chess does the same for their rated players.
One of the Master Players is Scormus of Ar. He is handsome, brilliant, fierce and arrogant. He is also lame in the right leg. His play is swift, decisive, and merciless. He uses it as a weapon to destroy his enemies. His mother was Sura, a slave, and his father is Hup the fool. Hup also plays as well as a Master and beat Scormus in 10119 C.A. In Ar in 10118 C.A., Scormus had held the high bridge near the Central Cylinder for four years. He had also won the cap of gold four times at the Sardar fairs and had never lost a tournament he entered. But, in 10125, Scormus played Centius of Cos at the En'Kara fair and lost. After that bitter defeat, Scormus went into hiding and ended up by 10129 as a robed figure in a traveling carnival troupe. In 10130, Scormus left the carnival and retured to Ar.
Another Master Player is Centius of Cos. He is old-looking, white-haired and gentle. He is almost a legend and is the creator of the famed Centian opening. He loves Kaissa for its beauty and seeks the perfect game. He is one of the seven or eight top players on Gor though thought by many to be the best player of all time. In 10125 and 10126 C.A, Centius was the champion at the En'Kara tournaments. He beat Scormus in 10125, at their first meeting. In 10127, he did not compete as he chose that time to study. In 10128, he was beaten by Ajax of Ti, of the Salerian Confederation, who had beat Terence in the semifinals. But in 10129, Centius retook the crown and beat Ajax. In 10130, Centius of Cos was in Corcyrus at a small tournament and won all his games.
Other Masters and top Players include Quintus of Tor, Qualius of Ar (a blindman), Temenides of Cos, Sabo of Turia, Philemon of Teletus, Stengarius of Ti, Hobart of Tharna, Boris of Turia, Ossius of Tabor, Philemon of Asperiche, Timor of Turia, Terence of Turia, Ajax of Ti and Milos of Cos. Reginald of Ti was the duly elected Administrator of the Caste of Players at the time of Beasts of Gor.
There are many Kaissa tournaments throughout Gor. Open tournaments have been held in Anango, Helmutsport, Tharna, Tyros, Ko-ro-ba, and Turia. The city championship of Ar is regarded by some as tantamount to victory at the En'Kara Fair. It is the second most coveted crown in the game, after the En'Kara tournament.
At a tournament, a large vertical board stands behind each Kaissa table to record the movements of the pieces. Young players, apprentices to masters, move the pieces on these boards which hang on pegs. Official scoring is kept by a team of three officials, at least one that must be of the caste of players. Sand clocks are used to keep track of time. Each has a tiny spigot which can be opened or closed. When a player closes his spigot, it opens his opponent's. There are two Ahn of sand in each clock. Each player must complete forty moves within this time or forfeit. Games are adjudicated by a team of five judges when capture of the Home Stone does not occur, each who must be a caste member and three who must be masters. Tournament rules state that if you touch a piece then you must move that piece. If you place a piece on a square and remove your hand from it, it must stay on that space. These two items are similar to Earth chess tournament rules.
One of the greatest games at a tournament was at the En'Kara Tournament of 10125, between Scormus of Ar (yellow) and Centius of Cos (red). Most of the game was detailed in Beasts of Gor. Here are the moves as described there.
Yellow: Ubara's Spearman to Ubara Five (This is known as the Ubara's Gambit)
Red: Ubar's Spearman to Ubar Five (This is known as the Center Defense, generally a poor defense against a Master Player)
Yellow: Spearman takes Spearman
Red: Ubar's Tarnsman Spearman to Ubar's Tarnsman Four (This is a break from the normal Center Defense)
Yellow: Spearman takes Spearman
Red: Ubar's Scribe Spearman to Ubar's Scribe Three
Yellow: Spearman takes Spearman
Red: Ubara to Ubar's Scribe Four
Yellow: Spearman takes Rider of the High Tharlarion
Red: Ubar's Initiate takes Spearman
Yellow: Ubar's Spearman to Ubar Four
Red: Ubar to Ubar four
Yellow: Ubar's Tarnsman Spearman to Ubar Tarnsman Five
Red: Rider to Ubara's Builder Three
Yellow: Rider to Builder Three
Red: Ubara's Builder to Builder Two
Yellow: Ubara's Builder to Builder Two
Red: Home Stone placed on Ubara's Builder One
Yellow: Home Stone placed on Builder One
Red: Rider to Builder Four
There were eleven more moves that were not detailed in the books. On the 22nd move, Scormus resigns and Centius becomes the Champion. His highly unorthodox defense in this game becomes known as the Telnus Defense.
Goreans often play without a board and pieces, by memory alone. They prefer a board though due to the mnemonic effort required otherwise. Some Masters can play a number of games simultaneously, by memory alone. Some Kaissa boards have a counter of ten, small, cylindrical wooden beads strung on a wire. This aids you to know when you must place your Home Stone. Some boards have a drawer for the pieces. Other boards are made to be played at sea. The pieces have pegs that fit snugly into holes on the board. At some paga taverns, they have boards made inlaid into the tables by a carver and enameler.
Slaves are not commonly permitted to play Kaissa. It is thought to be an insult for a slave to play or even touch the pieces. It is even illegal in some cities for slaves to play or even touch the pieces without permision. They could lose their hands or even be killed for such a violation. Free women also seem not to play Kaissa though there is no explicit prohibition in the books stating that they may not play. Assassin of Gor does make a brief reference that women do not play the game.
Kaissa puzzles exist, similar to Earth chess puzzles. Essentially, you are provided with a specific position on a board and you must commonly discern how to force a capture of the Home Stone in a specified number of moves. These puzzles can help to hone your Kaissa skills. Some puzzles may involve other issues besides the capture of the Home Stone. For example, they might be how to gain an advantage in pieces or how to avoid the capture of your own Home Stone.
Kaissa ciphers are a method of coded communication and there are numerous varieties that exist. It was most likely invented by the Caste of Players and they use this system to send private messages. It can often be extremely difficult to decipher because of the use of multiples and nulls, and the multiplicity of boards. You generally need the key to decipher such a code. Players of Gor goes into much more detail on this code system.
Kaissa is very important to some men.
"To some men this game is music and women. It can give them pleasure. It can help them forget. It is Ka-la-na wine, and the night on which such wine is drunk." (Tarnsman of Gor, p.170)
There are few on Gor who do not stand in awe of the skills of high Players. Due to its widespread appeal on Gor, it should be considered a staple for most online characters. Yet online, we see few characters who are proficient in Kaissa. Hopefully, that will change in time.
Here are a few other quotes on Kaissa.
"Kaissa, like love and music, is it own justification. It requires no other." (Players of Gor, p.236)
"Kaissa is sometimes played for high stakes." (Fighting Slave of Gor, p.267)
"It is hard to understand one who is not concerned with Kaissa." (Beasts of Gor p.34)
"Winning and losing do not matter. What matters is the game, and the beauty." (Centius of Cos in Beasts of Gor, p.39)
There is one other "game" that is often referred to as a different form of Kaissa. It is the kaissa of politics and men. It is favored by Samos of Port Kar. This form of Kaissa is best described in the following quote:
"The board has a thousand sides and surfaces and dimensions; pieces are of unknown number, nature and value; rules are uncertain; often you do not know who you play or where they are; often the moves must be made in darkness, in ignorance of your opponent's position, pieces, strengths, skills and moves." (Magicians of Gor, p.188)


As an aside: Where did Norman get the word "Kaissa?"

Well, "Caissa" is the goddess or muse of chess and her name derives from the name of a nymph in a poem composed by Sir William Jones in 1763. "Kaissa" is the eastern European spelling of Caissa. "Kaissa" was also the name of the first Russian chess computer.

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