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Learn and Play Xiangqi: The Ancient Game of Chinese Chess

Chinese Chess: A Fascinating Game of Strategy and Culture

Have you ever heard of Chinese chess? If not, you are missing out on one of the most popular and ancient board games in the world. Chinese chess, also known as Xiangqi (象棋), is a strategy game that has been played for over a thousand years in China and other Asian countries. It is similar to Western chess in some ways, but also has many unique features that make it a challenging and enjoyable game for players of all levels.

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In this article, we will introduce you to the basics of Chinese chess, including its history, rules, strategy, variants, and online resources. By the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of this fascinating game and hopefully be inspired to give it a try.

History of Chinese Chess

The origin of Chinese chess is not certain, but it is generally believed that it derived from an ancient Indian game called Chaturanga, which also gave rise to Western chess, Shogi (Japanese chess), and Janggi (Korean chess). Some scholars think that Chinese chess may have developed independently from a native Chinese game called Liubo, which was a dice-based game involving military tactics.

Whatever its origin, Chinese chess has a long and rich history in China and other Asian countries. It was already played in the courts of the Warring States period (475-221 BCE) and became more popular during the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE). Many literary works mention Chinese chess as a pastime for nobles, scholars, generals, and commoners alike. The game also reflects the culture and philosophy of China, as the pieces represent different elements of the army and society, such as the general (king), the advisors (bishops), the elephants (bishops), the horses (knights), the chariots (rooks), the cannons (rooks), and the soldiers (pawns).

Chinese chess has remained in its present form for centuries, with only minor changes in the rules and notation. It is still widely played today in China and other Asian countries, as well as by overseas Chinese communities around the world. You can often find people playing Chinese chess in parks, streets, cafes, or online platforms.

Rules of Chinese Chess

Chinese chess is played on a board of nine vertical lines (files) and ten horizontal lines (ranks). The board has a river in the middle that divides it into two halves. Each half has a palace in the center that is marked by diagonal lines. The pieces are placed on the intersections of the lines (points), rather than on the squares.

Each player has 16 pieces: one general, two advisors, two elephants, two horses, two chariots, two cannons, and five soldiers. The pieces are flat disks with red or black characters on them. The red player moves first, followed by the black player. The players alternate turns until one side checkmates or stalemates the other side's general.

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The movement of each piece is as follows:

  • The general moves one point horizontally or vertically within the palace. It cannot leave the palace or face the enemy general directly on an open file.

  • The advisor moves one point diagonally within the palace. It cannot leave the palace.

  • The elephant moves two points diagonally across an intervening point. It cannot cross the river or jump over another piece.

  • The horse moves one point horizontally or vertically followed by one point diagonally outward. It can be blocked by another piece on its first point.

  • The chariot moves any number of points horizontally or vertically until it reaches the edge of the board or meets another piece. It can capture the enemy piece on its final point.

  • The cannon moves like the chariot, but it can only capture by jumping over exactly one piece (friend or foe) on its way. It cannot capture a piece on an adjacent point.

  • The soldier moves one point forward until it reaches the river. After crossing the river, it can also move one point horizontally. It cannot move backward or sideways before crossing the river.

The goal of the game is to checkmate the enemy general, which means to threaten it with capture and leave it no legal move to escape. If the general is not in check but has no legal move, it is a stalemate and the game is a draw. If both generals are in check at the same time, the game is a draw. If both players agree, they can also declare a draw by repetition, perpetual check, or insufficient material.

Strategy of Chinese Chess

Chinese chess is a game of strategy and tactics, where you have to plan your moves ahead and anticipate your opponent's moves. Here are some basic principles and tips for playing Chinese chess well:

  • Protect your general. The general is the most important piece in the game, as losing it means losing the game. Keep it safe in the palace and avoid exposing it to direct attacks or checks. Use your advisors and elephants to shield your general from enemy cannons and chariots.

  • Control the center. The center of the board is where most of the action happens, as it allows your pieces to have more mobility and flexibility. Try to occupy and dominate the center with your chariots, horses, cannons, and soldiers. Use your elephants to control the diagonals and prevent enemy horses from entering your territory.

  • Use your pieces effectively. Each piece has its own strengths and weaknesses, and you should use them accordingly. For example, chariots are powerful pieces that can attack and defend on both sides of the board, but they are also vulnerable to cannons and horses. Horses are agile pieces that can jump over obstacles, but they are also easily blocked by other pieces. Cannons are tricky pieces that can surprise your opponent with their long-range jumps, but they are also weak when they have no screen to jump over.

  • Be aggressive but cautious. Chinese chess is a fast-paced game that rewards aggressive play, as you can often create threats and pressure on your opponent's position. However, you should also be careful not to overextend or expose your pieces to counterattacks. Always check for possible captures, checks, forks, pins, skewers, and other tactics before making a move.

  • Study the endgame. The endgame is the final stage of the game, where there are few pieces left on the board. The endgame can be very complex and subtle, as small differences in material and position can make a big difference in the outcome. You should study some common endgame patterns and techniques, such as how to checkmate with different combinations of pieces, how to promote your soldiers, how to use zugzwang (forcing your opponent to make a bad move), and how to draw with insufficient material.

Variants of Chinese Chess

Chinese chess has many variants that add more variety and fun to the game. Some of the most popular and unusual variants are:

  • Banqi (半棋): Also known as half-chess or dark chess, this is a hidden information game where the pieces are placed face down on a smaller board of seven by four points. The players flip over one piece per turn and move it according to its type. The goal is to capture all of the enemy pieces or their general.

  • Jungle (森林): Also known as animal chess or Dou Shou Qi (鬥獸棋), this is a game where the pieces represent different animals with different ranks and abilities. The board has nine by seven points with some special zones such as traps and dens. The goal is to capture the enemy's den or all of their pieces.

  • Circular chess (圓棋): This is a game where the board is circular with 16 radial lines and four concentric circles. The pieces move along the lines and circles according to their type. The goal is to checkmate the enemy general or force them into a corner.

  • Three-player chess (三人棋): This is a game where three players compete on a hexagonal board with 96 points. Each player has 16 pieces of their own color (red, black, or green). The goal is to checkmate one of the other two generals or capture both of them.

Online Chinese Chess

If you want to play Chinese chess online , you have many options to choose from. There are many websites and apps that offer Chinese chess games for free or for a fee. Some of the benefits of playing Chinese chess online are: - You can play anytime and anywhere, as long as you have an internet connection and a device. - You can play


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