Douglas Crockford




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Xiangqi: Chinese Chess

An Introduction to Xiangqi for Chess Players

Xiangqi may be the most popular board game in the world. It is China's adaptation of Shatranj, and so is very similar to Chess. It is a great game, but it is virtually unknown outside of China.

If you undertook the task of designing equipment for Xiangqi with the sole objective of discouraging Chess players from wanting to learn it, it would be hard to improve on the traditional Xiangqi equipment. The Chinese have had a thousand years to get used to it.

It is played on an 8 by 9 uncheckered board. Xiangqi is played with flat round pieces which are placed on the corners (as in Go), not in centers of the squares. Each piece has a Chinese character written on it, identifying the piece. The characters may be different for the two sides. A new player must learn to read several Chinese characters, right-side-up and up-side-down.

To make this excellent game more attractive to the rest of the world, we have styled it to look more like Chess. Xiangqi and Chess have more similarities than differences. We recommend that you learn about the game in this form. If you like it, then you will want to learn the traditional form.

Xiangqi is a much livelier game than Chess. The game starts with the pawns advanced and spread out. The kings are already confined to the Palace, which quickens the endgame. The kings are not allowed to see each other, which gives them a rook-like power. And the jumping ability of the cannons provides great excitement.


The Board

Xiangqi can be played on a 9 by 10 uncheckered board. Each square can contain a piece. The separated into two territories by a river running horizontally through the center of the board. Bishops are unable to cross the river. Pawns gain the ability to move horizontally when they cross the river. Each of the territories has a 3 by 3 area called the Palace. The kings and queens are never permitted to leave the Palace.


The king (or general) can move one square horizontally or vertically. The king is restricted to the nine squares of the palace. The King cannot leave the Palace, even to avoid checkmate. Kings act as rooks for the purpose of checking: If the two kings are in the same file, there must be at least one blocking piece between them. There is no castling.

The queen (or guard) moves one square diagonally (as in Shatranj). A queen cannot leave the Palace, even to prevent checkmate. Queens are restricted to five of the nine squares in the Palace. Each side has two queens.

The bishop (or elephant or minister) moves exactly two squares diagonally (as in Shatranj), but cannot jump. Bishops cannot cross the river. There are only seven squares that a bishop can occupy.

The knight (or horse) moves like the Chess knight, except that it cannot jump. It moves one square vertically or horizontally, and then one square diagonally.

The rook (or chariot or car) moves like the Chess rook. It can go any number of spaces vertically or horizontally.

The pawn (or soldier) moves one space forward only. Unlike the pawn in Chess, this pawn does not capture diagonally. It does not have the option to go two on its first move. There is no en passant capture. There is no promotion of pawns into queens. However, once the pawn crosses the river, it acquires the power to move sideways. The pawn can never move backwards. Each side has five pawns.

The cannon is unique to Xiangqi. It is the only piece which moves differently than it captures. The cannon moves likes a rook. It captures by moving like a rook with a jump over one piece. There must be exactly one piece of either color between the cannon and the piece it captures. The intervening piece is called the gun mount or screen.

Checkmate and Stalemate

Check and Checkmate are the same as in Chess. Stalemate is a win, not a draw. You cannot avoid defeat by forcing a stalemate.

Perpetual check and other repetitions are not allowed.


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See also