Introduction to Chinese Chess

Chinese Chess or Xiangqi is the most popular game throughout most of Asia, e.g. China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore. Since its conception centuries ago, the game has stayed true to original form. The name Xiangqi is pronounced as Shiang-Chi. Translated, it is called the Elephant Game.

Chinese Chess sets consist of one cardboard, and red and black pictograms for the flat wooden counters. For such an enjoyable game, it is quote inexpensive.

The Look

On the Xiangqi board, there are nine vertical lines and ten horizontal lines. There is a central-horizontal gap, which is known as the River. The river interrupts all the vertical lines. There are two palaces – a Black palace and a Red palace – located at opposite sides of the board. Each palace is marked by a cross that connects to the four corner points. These points do the work of the line intersections, on which Xiangqi is played. (in Orthodox Chess, these points are replaced by squares.) There are L-shaped markings on the board to differentiate the points of Cannons and Pawns. Now, these markings have become optional.

With regard to game pieces, each player begins with one King, two Elephants (Ministers or Bishops), two Knights (Horses), two Rooks (Chariots), five Pawns (Soldiers), two Cannons, and two Mandarins (Guards). They are placed from left to right on the bottom and top rows: a Rook, a Knight, a Minister, a Guard, a King, a Guard, a Minister, a Knight, and a Rook.

The Movement of Pieces

  • King or General
  • Unlike Western Chess, the red and black Kings are symbolically different. In Xiangqi, the King cannot move diagonally, nor can it leave the palace. Further, the two Kings are not placed face to face. In contrast to Western Chess, if both Kings are on an open file, then the King of rival party cannot move in order to occupy that file.

  • Elephants
  • Elephants move diagonally up to two points. They cannot jump over any occupied points. As the Elephants are confined to the River, they can move only up to seven points total.

  • Knights or Ma
  • The Knight moves only in L-shape and cannot jump over the occupied points.

  • Rooks
  • The Rook moves in a straight line in any direction.

  • Pawns
  • In Xiagnqi, the movement of Pawns varies from those in Western Chess. Initially, a Pawn moves forward by one point. It does not move either left or right. However, both capturing and passive movement of Pawns are same as in western Chess.

  • Cannons or Pao
  • The Cannon has different passive and capturing movements.

  • Mandarins or Guards
  • The Mandarins move diagonally up to one point. They never leave the palace. These are also symbolically different between red and black, with their movements being the same.

The red starts the game. As usual, the game ends with checkmating or stalemating. Note: one cannot check or stalemate thrice in a row.


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