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Tabletop Game / Xiangqi

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When the game of Chaturanga moved into China, it was merged with another game to produce Xiangqi (literally "the general's chess"), pronounced roughly shiang-chee in Mandarin note , and known in English as "Chinese Chess". The disk-shaped piecesnote  are placed on the vertices rather than in the squares. The board has ten ranks and nine files. Between the fifth and sixth files is a feature called the river. A 3x3 square in the middle back of each player's side is referred to as the palace. note 


Chinese chess uses a different notation from western chess. Each player counts columns from the right and rows from their side, thus the right column for each player is column 1 and column 9 for the opponent. The rows are not marked. Movement is noted by the piece's name's first letter (P, C, R, H, E, A, or G), a number denoting the piece's column, a symbol for the type of movement (+, -, . ) and a number. If 2 pieces of the same type are in the same column, + or - is used to denote the more forward or the less forward pieces respectively. For pieces that move along the lines (ie. the rook), the . symbol is used to show which column the rook moved to and the +/- is used to show how many rows forwards or backwards the piece moved. For example, r1+2 means the rook in column 1 moved forward 2 spaces and r+.5 means the more forwards rook in column 7 moves sideways to column 5. For pieces that do not move along the lines, the same numbering system is used to denote the pieces. + and - are used to show whether the piece moves forwards or backwards and the final number, the column the piece moves to. For example, a horse in its starting position might move h2+3, meaning it moved forwards and into column 3, or h2+4, meaning it moved forwards but into column 4, further left.



  • The Pawn moves and captures one square forward until it crosses the river, whereupon it moves either forwards or horizontally. It does not promote (justified, The Xiangqi Pawns can be considered to promote to "Promoted Pawns" after crossing the river, gaining the additional ability to move horizontally.). Each player has five.
  • The Cannon moves like a rook. It leaps over another piece (a "screen") to capture. (It can capture any piece with another piece between them, on the lines of movement.) It cannot leap unless it captures. Each player has two.
  • The Rook (Chariot) moves and captures like in Chess. Each player has two. It is called Rook in English to distinguish it from the cannon in game notations.
  • The Horse moves and captures like the knight in chess, except that it cannot jump note . Each player has two.
  • The Elephant moves two point diagonally and cannot jump. It cannot cross the river. Each player has two, which are confined to the same seven points. It captures as it moves.
  • The Advisor moves one square diagonally and can only travel the diagonal lines denoting the palace. Each player has two. It captures as it moves.
  • The General moves one square orthogonally and cannot leave the palace. When he is in check without a legal move, it is checkmate. The Generals cannot face each other in a column directly. This could be visualized as the General possessing the ability to shoot him/herself into the opponent's camp, instantly killing the opponent general. There is a story (of uncertain accuracy) to the effect that the piece was called an Emperor until the actual Emperor overheard two players talking about killing or capturing the Emperor piece and misunderstood them.

Perpetual check is a forfeit, and a player with no legal moves has lost.

Much as you'll see Western chess players congregated around cafes and park tables, nearly any Chinatown will have people gathered in parks and cafes to play xiangqi. note  If you'd like to play for yourself, there's a printable PDF version here, and a number of computerized versions for all major platforms.


  • All There in the Manual: Averted for anyone who doesn't read Chinese. Although there are chess books in Chinese, most are relatively recent and in Chinese only, and there's only a very few scattered books written in other languages. The pages and pages of hyperfocused analysis that make up western chess literature isn't nearly as vast (or obsessive) for Xiangqi.
    • In the early 21st century, some of the classic manuals got translated into English. And while the strategy is occasionally a bit dated, the warnings about traps and blunders still hold.
  • Attack Pattern Alpha: Openings like the Central Cannon Attack/Defense (moving a Cannon to the central file on the first move), Screen Horse Attack/Defense (developing the Horses to files 3 and 7 before moving any Cannons), etc.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: In some rules of the game, the general can One-Hit Kill the enemy general if you have a clear line of sight. This never happens in practice, as exposing your general allows the enemy to take yours in response, but is used to set up checkmates and restrict the opposing general's movement.
  • Alternate Character Reading: The character on a Chariot piece is read jū. (no, it sounds nothing like "Jew"), but is nowadays more commonly read che meaning car.
  • But Not Too Foreign: The typical design is perhaps a bit alien to westerners, and the use of the intersections rather than the squares for piece placement is distinctly Chinese, but the family resemblance with western chess is fairly obvious.
  • The Chessmaster: You, if you're good enough.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The two sides are conventionally red and black (sometimes green or another colour).
  • Gambit Pileup: What else could a Chaturanga-based game be?
  • Glass Cannon: The Chariot (Rook) is the most powerful piece — but even a Pawn can take it down. Likewise for the actual Cannon which, as noted below, has no range restrictions and can make a serious mess of things, but gets taken out just like any other piece.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: One's own Advisors often get in one's own General's way. Furthermore, until one of them is captured, each move with one either blocks or unblocks the other. Their main use is as Human Shields against things like Horses and Chariots, but this also makes them great screens for the enemy's Cannons; in fact, emptying the center file and controlling it with one's Cannons is a huge advantage, since this turns Advisors and Elephants into liabilities.
  • Idiot Ball: Even grand masters carry it from time to time.
  • I Work Alone: Because it takes several moves for Soldiers to get into a position to support each other, ones that do cross the river tend to be used independently to support other attacking pieces rather than to create formations with other Soldiers.
  • Just for Pun: Many of the same pieces on opposite sides are labeled with homophones, except the ones with completely different names.
    • The Pawns and Generals use completely different characters for opposite sides. In practice, players often just call both variations of both pieces by the same name, even if that name does not match how the character would be read outside the context of the game.
  • Mechanically Unusual Class: The Cannon is unique among pieces in that its movement and capture rules differ. It can move any number of spaces in the orthogonal directions, but to capture, it must jump over exactly one piece, friend or foe. It's also the only piece that can jump over other pieces (specifically, when capturing).
  • Nerf: Compared to their Chess and Chaturanga counterparts, certain pieces are weaker:
    • The General can only move orthogonally, and is stuck inside the 3x3 palace.
    • The Horse is unable to jump over pieces adjacent to it.
  • Non-Action Guy: The General, even moreso than the king in chess. While chess kings do come into play as part of the endgame, the General will always be that one piece you try to protect in order to not lose and little more.
  • One-Hit Point Wonder: All the pieces of the game, just like the game's Western Counterpart. A Pawn can take down a stronger piece such as a Rook, and vice versa.
  • Press Start to Game Over: 1 Cbe3 Che7 2 Ch5 Cb4??; 3 Cxe6+! Cxe4??; 4 Ce5# 1-0
  • Took a Level in Badass: Pawns when they cross the river. Unlike the Western version, they don't promote into more powerful pieces, but they do get the ability to move sideways. Given the restricted movement of the General, this is a lot more dangerous than it sounds; a Soldier knocking on the palace door can be a deadly threat if you have other pieces nearby.


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