How To Play Chinese Chess? - Read Here

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Chinese Chess or Elephant Chess is also called Xiangqi, pronounced as shyahng chi. It originates from the same family of Chanturanga and International Chess. This two-player board game of China chess has been played for centuries in China and other Asian countries, recently also in the West and today has become one of the most popular board games in the world.

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Chinese chess is regarded as a good game for players who love strategy and mastery of endgame methods. China chess is more or less similar to international chess, except for the different pieces and different rules of movement.

So, let’s learn how to play Chinese black and white chess—

Understanding the board

Xiangqi also has a two-player chessboard that has 9 vertical lines or files, and 10 horizontal lines or ranks. Unlike in western chess, the chess pieces in China chess are placed on line intersections, and not in squares.

On each side of the board, against the back edge, there is a palace or a castle 宮. There are two zones centering at the first to third and eighth to tenth ranks of the board, each of these zones has three points by three points, that are demarcated by two diagonal lines connecting opposite corners and intersecting at the center point, forming an ‘X’ shape.

Dividing the two opposite sides of the board between the fifth and sixth ranks is Chǔ Hé 楚河, known as River of Chu and Hàn Jiè 漢界, meaning Border of Han, referring to the Chu-Han War.

Even though the river or the border creates a divide between the two sides, only two pieces from  China chess are affected by it. The soldiers gain more advantages in their movements after crossing the river, and elephants are not allowed to cross it. On some boards, the starting points of the soldiers and cannons are marked with small crosses.

Arrangement

Like in standard chess, each piece has a designated place on the board, in Chinese chess. So begin by placing all your pieces in their correct positions. Remember, the pieces in China chess go on the intersections, and not on the squares.

Chinese chess Arrangement
  • Place the chariot, horse, elephant, guard, king, guard, elephant, knight, and chariot on the row nearest to you. Place the pieces on the points from left to right.
  • Place the two cannons on the intersection that is one point from the edge of the right and left side of the board on the third row.
  • Place the soldiers on every other intersection, starting with the first intersection on the edge of the board on the fourth row.

All about the Pieces

The pieces of Chinese chess are wooden disks that have red or black Chinese characters drawn on them. The pieces are lined up on the vertices.

Shuài” 帥/帅 and “Jiàng” 將/将

Shuài” 帥/帅 and “Jiàng” 將/将

The King or the General in Chinese Chess moves one point vertically or horizontally, but not diagonally. As in standard chess, the king may not also move into a file being attacked by an enemy piece. If the king is in check or is being attacked, the opponent must cancel the check immediately or the player loses the game.

Guard / Advisor “Shì” 仕 and “Shì” 士

Guard / Advisor “Shì” 仕 and “Shì” 士

In China chess, the Guard or the king’s counselor moves one point diagonally and like the king, is confined to the palace. To put it simply, every guard has only five positions within the palace area.

Elephant “Xiàng” 相 and “Xiàng” 象

Elephant “Xiàng” 相 and “Xiàng” 象

The Elephants can move only two points diagonally. They always stay on their half of the board as they cannot cross the river nor can they jump over occupied points. As such, in Chinese Chess, every elephant has only seven possible positions.

Horse “Mà” 傌/马 and “Mǎ” 馬/马

Horse “Mà” 傌/马 and “Mǎ” 馬/马

A Knight or a Horse moves one point vertically or horizontally, and then one point outward-diagonally. As against standard chess, in Xiangqi, the knight cannot jump over occupied pieces blocking its path.

Chariot “Jū” 俥/车 and “Jū” 車/车

Chariot “Jū” 俥/车 and “Jū” 車/车

A Rook or Chariot moves as in standard chess.  It can move as many points horizontally or vertically and it cannot jump over occupied pieces.

Cannons “Pào” 炮 and “Pào” 砲

Cannons “Pào” 炮 and “Pào” 砲

Cannons move like the Rook. However, to attack a cannon can jump over one piece (own or opponent’s).

Soldier “Bīng” 兵 and “Zú” 卒

Soldier “Bīng” 兵 and “Zú” 卒

Soldiers or Pawns may move only one point forward. Even if their capture moves are the same, they cannot attack diagonally. Pawns cannot move backward. If a pawn crosses the river, it can extend its moving abilities even sideways i.e. one point forward or horizontally.

Furthermore, Pawns don’t promote in Chinese chess. If it reaches the last row, it can move only sideways.

Important Rules of the Game

Well, if you want to know how to play Chinese chess, understanding the rules is crucial. So, let’s get to the bottom of it—

  • In Chinese chess, each side plays alternately and moves one piece in each turn. Pieces are captured with their normal moves and land on a point that is occupied by an opponent’s piece. Commonly, the Red makes the first move but players can agree to change it.
  • An important difference from international chess is that you can win the game by checkmating or stalemating your opponent’s King. In China chess, a stalemate does not draw the game.
  • A perpetual check is however forbidden. You cannot check the opponent’s King more than three times in a row from the same position and with the same piece.
  • In Chinese chess, perpetual chasing of an unprotected opponent’s piece is also forbidden. In other words, you cannot attack the same opponent’s piece that is not protected by another opponent’s piece that moves to and from the same two points indefinitely. In such a situation, you need to break off the game.
  • The Kings in Xiangqi are not allowed to face each other on the same open column, one other piece must stand between them on the same column.
  • When neither side can checkmate or a stalemate, the game comes to a draw.
  • The River, that divides the board into two sides, is generally ignored. The board is 9 x 10 points. The river affects only the movements of Elephants, who are forbidden to cross it, and the Soldiers, who have power after crossing it.

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