Xiangqi Day Thread

Did you know that chess is just one of a family of games that evolved from a common ancestor originating in India? That game, chaturanga, spread to Persia where it became shatranj, which spread to Europe where it became chess. But it also spread through Asia, continuing to evolve in different ways wherever it was introduced.

In China, it evolved into the game called Xiangqi, sometimes called “Chinese chess” in the west, a game that is still popular today. In Xiangqi, the pieces are placed on the intersections of the lines on the board, rather than on the squares, and the board itself has features (the “river” and the two “palaces”) that affect movement. Unlike the pieces in chaturanga and its western descendants, the pieces in a xiangqi set are normally not 3D figures, but rather tiles or tokens with characters identifying them.

The pieces in xiangqi are:

  • The general, which can move one point orthogonally and cannot leave its palace.
  • The advisers, which can move one point diagonally and cannot leave their palace.
  • The elephants, which can only move exactly two points diagonally (but cannot jump over intervening pieces) and cannot cross the river.
  • The horses, which move like the knight in chess except that they cannot jump over intervening pieces.
  • The chariots, which move any number of points orthogonally.
  • The cannons, which move any number of points orthogonally but can only capture by jumping over an intervening piece of either color.
  • The soldiers, which move (and capture) one point forward when on their own side of the river, but when on the opponent’s side of the river, can also move and capture one point horizontally.

As in chess, the goal is to checkmate the opponent’s general, though in xiangqi, a stalemate is also considered a win for the stalemating player.

While many of the tactics of chess are similar in xiangqi (forks, double attacks, pins, skewers, undermining, and so forth are all possible), much of the strategy is different. Xiangqi is a much more fluid game. Since the soldiers in xiangqi capture the same way they move, they cannot defend each other like pawns in chess; whereas in chess, the pawns often create a kind of semi-rigid structure around which the pieces operate, this doesn’t happen in xiangqi. Moreover, since the starting position of xiangqi does not have all of each side’s pieces clustered together, every piece is moveable right from the beginning of the game.