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Chinese Chess

Xiangqi, known in the west as Chinese Chess, is an extremely popular game in the
Eastern Hemisphere. It is currently played by millions (or tens of millions) in China,
Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Hong Kong and other Asian countries.
Xiangqi has remained in its present form for centuries. It is commonly believed that
both Xiangqi and Orthodox Chess derive from the original Indian game
of Chanturanga, but some, such as Sam Sloan and David Li, maintain that Chess is
actually Chinese in origin. Whatever the relation between Xiangqi and Chaturanga, it
seems highly likely that they are related, for the similarities between them are too hard
to explain as just coincidences. The two games are played by approximately the same
rules, and except for the Cannon, every Xiangqi piece is very similar to the
Chaturanga piece that occupies roughly the same position and bears a name similar or
identical in meaning.
(qí) translates to Elephant Game. In Mandarin it is written as either
Xiangqi, Xiang Qi or Hsiang-Ch`i and pronounced "Shiang-Chi". In Cantonese it is
written as Jeuhng Keih and pronounced "Junk Kay". The name is written as two
Chinese characters. The first is used in the game for the Elephant piece. The second
means strategy game, and it also signifies one of the four arts -- qin (music), hua
(brush painting), shu (calligraphy) and qí (strategy games) -- that a Chinese gentleman
scholar was supposed to be proficient in. The word may have originally referred to the
game now called Weiqi or Go, though in current usage it just means strategy board
There is much literature on Xiangqi, most of it in Chinese. There are, however, a
few books available in English and other languages.


. the rules of Xiangqi will be familiar. that leads to a draw. The vertical lines are interrupted in the middle. Pawns gaining the ability to move sideways after crossing it. Checkmate is the same in both games. and the pieces. pieces go on the intersections. stalemate is one condition in the game. This interruption is called the river. and he cannot eliminate the check with any move. moves one piece at a time.If you know how to play Chess. Board The traditional Xiangqi board is a grid of ten horizontal lines and nine vertical lines. Other pieces can pass over it as though it's not there. the board. and tries to get the opponent's royal piece. It serves as a barrier to the Elephants. It differs from Chess mainly in the object. a stalemate in Xiangqi wins the game for the player delivering it. In Chess. Stalemate is when a player has no legal move. In Xiangqi. such as the boards Shogi and Chaturanga are played on. where a stalemate counts as a draw. A draw is when a game ends in a tie. among others. Each is distinguished by an x-shaped cross connecting its four corner points. These intersections are called points. Throughout the game. so that the board appears as two grids of five horizontal lines by nine veritical lines. Object The object of Xiangqi is to either checkmate or stalemate your opponent. the piece to checkmate is the opponent's General. a player with no legal move loses. The board appears very similar to other uncheckered boards. Two palaces are positioned at opposite sides of the board. The general idea is the same. In Xiangqi. let me spell out the difference. Each player controls an army of pieces. It is believed that this type of piece placement is borrowed from WeiQi (known in the west as Go). but instead of going in the space demarcated by the lines. You have checkmated your opponent when you have attacked his General (placed it in check). each player's General and Advisors must remain in the palace. Unlike Chess. To avoid any confusion among Chess players who consider stalemate synonymous with draw.

. These markings are not present on all commercial boards.The above board shows various L-shaped markings in order to mark the setup points of Pawns and Cannons. and they have no bearing on the course of the game.

one space between each Pawn. a Horse. On the third rows. and western players may find the game less forbidding with more familiar equipment. The checkered board used here is patterned after one that came with a commercial Chinese Chess set called Cambaluc Chinese Chess. pieces are placed like so. Like the traditional board. and Notation Western Pieces. Cambaluc Board. an Elephant. it marks the river. an Advisor. a General. Algebraic Notation From left to right on the bottom and top rows. and the spaces that Cannons and Pawns begin on. a Horse. Board. and on the fourth row you see the Pawns. the palaces. and a Chariot. The side shown at the bottom of the .Setup At the beginning of the game. a checkered board with western pieces is also shown. The rules of the game do not require the traditional board. Besides the traditional board described above. you see the Cannons in front of the Horses. you see: a Chariot. an Advisor. Traditional Pieces. an Elephant.

showing wheels at top and bottom. It may not pass over occupied spaces. is capable of reaching all the same spaces that the Chess Knight can reach. it first moves one space orthogonally followed by one more space diagonally outward. When the first space it would move over is occupied. but it cannot leap over pieces. Pieces Chinese Pieces Movement Chariots / Rooks The Chariot (or Rook) moves exactly the same as the Rook in Chess. Horses / Knights The Horse. The character used for the Chinese piece. 車. the other side Black. stopping either on an empty space or the first space it comes to that is occupied by one of the opponent's pieces. It may never stop on the first space of its movement. When it moves. Westernized Pieces . is the pictograph of a chariot from above. So it cannot reach any space a Chess Knight could not reach. It moves in a straight line horizontally or vertically across any number of empty spaces. though sometimes Blue or Green. its movement in that direction is blocked. commonly known in Fairy Chess literature as the Mao.board is normally called Red.

The character for the Red piece. Due to these limitations. and tail. the character for this piece. The two characters used for this piece are homonyms in Chinese.Known as mӑ in Chinese. Mandarin or Guard) moves one space diagonally. both transliterated as xiáng. The tree is the figure on the left. it means prime minister. mane. it is blocked and may not make that move. the black piece an Elephant. 相. It may never leave the palace. it may not leap over occupied spaces. it means to examine or study. as shown in the western pieces used. The character for the Black piece. Additionally. the Elephant can reach only seven spaces of the board. which means female horse. T. the diagonal lines in the palace connect the points the Advisor may reach. So if the first step of its move is over an occupied space. On the traditional board. shows an eye 目 behind a tree 木. is the pictograph of an elephant. Like the Horse. We tend to favor Elephant. Lau calls them both Ministers. while the World Xiangqi Federation calls them both Elephants. and the eye is the thing that looks like a ladder. The Chinese name is similar to the English word mare. By whatever name. is the pictograph of a horse. Aside from this restriction. As a verb. this piece moves two spaces in the same diagonal direction. Some literature on Chinese Chess will stick to one name or the other. 馬. showing its head. As a noun. Elephants are confined to their own side of the river. Advisors / Guards The Advisor (also known as Councellor. it is identical to . Minister / Elephant The Red piece is called a Minister. H. 象. legs.

with scholar. transliterated as shuái. tranliterated as jiáng. The Black character for this piece. essentially keeping the meaning the same. The name of Guard describes the function of the piece in the game. the General may not move diagonallly. The two Generals cannot face each other on an open file. 帥. in the lower right corner. 士. The hill is on the left side. combines the characters for 1 (一) and 10 (十) to mean one who knows all from one to ten.the Shatranj piece commonly known as a Ferz It's Chinese name of shì means scholar. combines a character for law. with no piece on the e-file between them. The character for the Black piece. Lau) are close in meaning to this. T. The names of Guard and Mandarin were both popularized by John Gollon. A Mandarin was a kind of public official in the Chinese empire. is an illegal position. Councellor is a common translation of both shì and ferz. 將. as an adjective. but Advisor has the advantage of not beginning with the same letter as Cannon while meaning essentially the same thing. General / King The General moves one space orthogonally within the confines of the palace. The Red character. the other General may not move to occupy that file. a red General on e1 and a black General on e10. Neither seems to be an accurate translation. If either General sits exposed on an open file. Unlike the King in Chess. . 仕. handsome. combines the characters for person. The Red character. it means commander. the banner on the right. The names of Advisor (used by the World Xiangqi Federation) and Councellor (used by H. It means will or going to. combines characters for hill 埠 and banner 巾. As a noun. 人. 寸. with a phonetic. For example. 士.

d1. but in some sets the Black piece is displayed as 砲. Upon crossing the river. In other words. The Chinese páo sounds like the English sound effect pow. The character for the Black piece shown here just has the phonetic. Being unable to move forward any longer. 包. and given that the character includes the phonetic for this sound. c1. 炮. The character for the Red piece. They may never hop over more than one piece in a given move. and it moves in the same directions when capturing except that to make the capture it must hop over a single intervening piece. a Cannon on a1 can take a piece on f1 when exactly one of the spaces b1.Cannons The Cannon moves differently when it moves to capture than when it moves passively. Soldiers / Pawns The Xiangqi Pawn moves one space vertically forward. It moves the same as the Chariot when it is not capturing a piece. it never gets a double move. Cannons only capture when hopping and only hop when capturing. it is likely that the Chinese name for the Cannon is onomatopoeic. Cannons capture by hopping over asecond piece in order to capture a third piece. and it does not promote to another piece on the last rank. . or e1 is occupied by a piece of either color. shows fire on the left and the phonetic for its Chinese name of páo. referred to as the screen. For example. a Pawn on the last rank can only move left or right. Unlike orthodox Pawns. showing a stone 石 with the phonetic. its passive moveand capture move are always the same. it gains the additional ability to move one space sideways.

then they would be going from 1 to 9. You cannot check your opponent more than three times in a row with the same piece and same board positions. transliterated as zú. the character for the piece is preceded by 前 (xìn) for front or 後 (han) for rear. but the person who is forcing the perpetual move must usually break it off. combines the pictograph of a cloak 衣 with the number 1 一. For pieces that . Chinese numerals are used for Red and Arabic numerals for Black. the file number is not used to designate which piece moved. The game is a draw when neither side can force a checkmate or a stalemate. 2. indefinitely. 兵. in order to avoid capture. Both characters mean soldier. The Black piece. transliterated as bing. just as the Arabic numerals are currently going. If you move a Rook to e5. Some of these situations are complicated. Instead. Other rules 1. then you cannot force that Cannon to and from e6 and f6 by moving your Rook to and from e5 and f5. or 平 (píng) for traversing horizontally. 卒. indefinitely. You cannot force an enemy piece to move to and from the same two spaces. threatening a Cannon on e6. The purpose of this rule (and the above rule) is to avoid perpetual-check draws. the Chinese numerals at the bottom of the board are 9 to 1 going left to right. If the board were flipped around to Black's perspective. and your opponent's only viable move is Cannon to f6. Notation Traditional Notation The traditional notation used by the Chinese writes a move in four parts. (3) A direction indicator. This consists of (1) The character for the piece. In the traditional diagram shown above.The Red piece. shows hands 廾 wielding an axe 斤. 4. Red moves first. When a player has two pieces of the same type on the same file and moves one. 3. 進 (jìn) for advancing forward. (2) The number identifying the file the piece is on. Perpetual check is forbidden. 退 (tùi) for retreating backward. Files are numbered 1 to 9 from each player's right hand side.

Following Chess as our model. For the direction indicators. They use Arabic numerals for both sides. and P for Pawn. these should be the letters a through i for the files and the numbers 1 through 10 for the ranks. N for Knight. a rare occurrence in most games. for horizontal.for the rear piece. E for Elephant. Algebraic Notation Borrowed from Chess. and the ICCS standard is supported by the Qianhong program. B. Instead of Chinese characters for the pieces. R for Rook. R for Rook. they use + for forward. But there has not been uniform agreement on this matter. he precedes its letter with f for front or r for rear. The International Chinese Chess Server (ICCS) numbers the ranks from 0 to 9.move only along ranks and files. (4) The file the piece moves to. further details are described on theWXF notation page from the World Xiangqi Federation's website. M for Minister. the choice of direction indicator is dictated by the move. When two pieces of the same type occupy the same file. WXF notation is supported by the programs Coffee Chinese Chess and Qianhong. This coordinate system is used by Zillions-of-Games. The World Xiangqi Federation has also adapted this style of notation to English. In his book Chinese Chess. the number of ranks moved.000 Xiangqi games stored in WXF notation. WXF notation precedes its letter with + for the front piece or . Instead of Chinese characters for the pieces. he uses these English letters: K for King. using these to assign a unique name to each location on the board. Lau adapts this style of notation to English. H for Horse. The Chinese Chess program that comes in Global Star's Ten . only the forward and backward direction indicators are used. and = or . he uses f for forward. b for backward. For multiple Pawns on the same file. C for Cannon. or. When two pieces of the same type occupy the same file. The Xiangqi Database has over 20. and by D. S for Councellor. and P for Pawn. by Game Courier. they use these English letters: K for King. C for Cannon. H. for backward. and h for horizontal. Again. for purely vertical movement. T. He uses Arabic numerals for both sides. For pieces that change both rank and file with a move. this will be in Chinese for Red and in Arabic for Black. as shown in the western setup diagram above. Pritchard in his book The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants. For the direction indicators. algebraic notation assigns fixed designations to each rank and file.

designates a move by two coordinates.Pro Board Games collection uses numbers for the files and letters for the ranks. a General can pin a piece on one of the three central files. Elephants. Horses. Since a Cannon hops over an intervening piece to capture. Like its counterpart in Chess. Tactics The Block Attacks by Chariots. Pritchard uses notation of this sort in the Xiangqi entry of his Encyclopedia of Chess Variants. a Pawn move is designated by just its destination. Since Horses and Elephants step to their destination instead of leaping there as the Chess Knight does. It may not be able to flee from an attack. then it is pinned. and ambiguous moves by also indicating which space the piece moves from. The Double Pin The double pin is a tactic of Chinese Chess that is unavailable in Chess. captures with an x and the notation for the piece captured. and Game Courier all use algebraic notation of this sort. they are also capable of pinning pieces. most normal moves by the piece notation and the destination. Algebraic notation can also follow the style common for Chess of writing the move as briefly as possible. and Cannons can be blocked by moving another piece into the line of attack. it takes two pieces to block a . D. which is included in the same collection of programs. Zillions-of-Games. The simplest type of algebraic notation. the second indicating where the piece moves to. perhaps taking its cue from Shogi. the Chariot can pin pieces. The Pin When a move by a piece would reveal a check on the same player's General or an attack on a more valuable piece. and it may not be able to defend a space it could otherwise move to. Because of the rule against opposing Generals. But doing so can allow your opponent to pin your piece. A pinned piece is less mobile than other pieces. commonly used by computer programs. In this manner. the first indicating where the piece moved from. ICCS. B.

In some cases. Once the attacked piece moves away. Although Horses and Elephants can be pinned. Note that the skewer doesn't work so effectively when your aim is to capture a Cannon. the Cannon can hop over the other one to capture a piece. it is possible to cancel both attacks of a fork with one move. This allows a Cannon to pin two pieces in the same line of attack. the other piece can be captured. they cannot skewer. . The Fork A fork is an attack on two or more pieces by the same piece. leaving the other available to be captured. The skewer tactic is available only to Chariots and Cannons in Xiangqi. For example. If one piece moves away. the piece that moves away may move to block the other attack.Cannon attack. for the Cannon can hop over the allegedly skewered piece to capture your Chariot. The Skewer The skewer is an attack on the General or some other valuable piece that is blocking an attack on another piece. because they cannot capture on the first step of their move. Your opponent will be able to move only piece away on his next turn.