Xiangqi in Chinese. It is the Chinese version of the age-old game of chess. It is quite different from the western version, but just as intricate and requires the same type of skills needed to be good at chess. The history of the game is similar, it simulates a war scenario, with two sides of equal force battling it out on a board.

The board is divided into two "zones", with a "river" seperating it. Each zone is 5 X 9 units. Lines are drawn on the board, pieces can only be moved along the lines (not like in chess, where you move on squares). Capturing is the same as in chess, you move onto the intersection where the enemy piece is and remove it.

The Pieces - All Chinese names are in Mandarin.

General (King) - jiang. This is the most important piece of the game. When you lose this piece, you lose the game. It moves horizontally or vertically one unit at a time. Also, it can never move out of the palace, a 3X3 area on the bottom of your side of the board.

A special move of the General is that if two generals face each other with nothing between them, a player can use a "flying attack" to immediately win the game. This is a way to prevent stalemates. When you attack the enemy general, you yell "Jiang jung", it means "check".

Advisor - shi. This is a defensive piece. It provides close defensive support for the General. Moves diagonally in any direction one unit at a time. Like the General, it can never leave the palace.

Elephant - xiang. This is also a defensive piece. It moves diagonally in any directions two units at a time. It can never move into your opponent's zone. The Elephant can be blocked by a piece in-between its current position and its intended destination.

Horse (Knight) - ma. This piece is similar to the Knight in chess. Moves horizontally or vertically in any directions by one unit, then immediately follow by a move diagonally one unit toward the direction away from its original position. If there is a piece immediately adjacent to the Horse, then it cannot move toward that direction (tangled).

Chariot (Rook) - ju. This piece is similar to the rook in chess. Moves horizontally or vertically in any directions by any number of units, provided that it doesn't move through another piece.

Cannon - pao. The most interesting piece in Chinese chess. Moves horizontally or vertically in any directions by any number of units, provided that it doesn't move through another piece. What makes it unique is its method of capture. To capture a piece, a Cannon must jump over one piece that is in-between itself and its intended target. The jumped over piece can be any piece in the game. This allows it to hop into enemy territory.

Pawn - bing. They are slow, but don't ignore them. Moves forward one unit at a time. After a Pawn crossed over into the enemy zone, it can also move left or right one unit at a time. It can never move backward. You get five of these, unlike the others, which you get two of each (except for the General of course)

An interesting sidenote is that some of the pieces in Chinese chess bear a striking resemblance to western chess.

The board is set up symmetrically. Here is the piece placement:

4th row - Pawns starting from the first column, spaced one space apart, 5 in total

3rd row - Cannons. One on the 2nd column, the other on the 8th.

1st row - Chariot, Horse, Elephant. Advisor, General, same order back

Some more on the pieces:
  • The best piece in the game is the Ju (chariot)- you have to be very careful not to lose it unless in trade because it is so powerful.
  • Unlike international chess, the knight cannot move if there is a piece on the space directly adjacent to it. This is an important strategy point because you can use a piece to "block" a knight and then attack him.
  • The general's "fly" ability is really useful in the end of the game when there are few pieces left on the board because you can cover an entire column thus making checkmate a lot easier.

In Chinese chess if your opponent messes up and leaves himself in check, you don't have to let him take the move back, you just kill his general and win. Also if your pawn reaches the other end, nothing happens- he cannot move backwards but only side to side across the end line. There is no piece recovery in Chinese chess.

A normal opening move is to move one of your cannons to the center of the board to threaten the pawn in front of the opponent's general. On your second move you then move a knight to cover your own front-center pawn.

General strategy: generally speaking, at the beginning of the game you re-structure the formation of your pieces for defense and then use one or two pieces to attack. The main attacking pieces are the chariot, the cannon and the knight but pawns also play a role. Two cannons arranged in a row is a very strong formation, as is a cannon behind a chariot or some other combination of cannons and chariots.

Also it's important not to do too much trading of pieces, as if you do, you may end up with only defensive pieces(elephants and scholars) and pawns and you will not be able to win.

Supposedly there are similar Japanese and Korean versions of Chinese chess. A korean kid I knew in high school knew how to play.

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