XiangQi in Comparison to “Western chess”

XiangQi, also known as Chinese chess, is a two-player board game similar to Western chess (sometimes called international chess), chaturanga, janggi and shogi. The modern form of Xiangqi originated in China and is therefore commonly referred to as Chinese chess in English.

In a 2005 report, Professor David H. Li proposed that the reason for the remarkable success of Chinese players in Western chess is because they are experienced in XiangQi, the combative and fast Chinese version of the game.

According to the professor, “There is no question that XiangQi and Western chess are different. Clearly, there are different moves and rules, but their underlying structure is similar – which is to grasp the spatial relationship. Spatial relationship, that is another way of talking about the “manoeuvrability ratio”. In relationship to the degree a game’s spatial manoeuvrability increases, its difficulty increases proportionately, perhaps geometrically or even exponentially. Between XiangQi and Western chess, the former has a higher manoeuvrability ratio, thus it is more difficult. Consequence: When one is accustomed to playing a game with a higher maneuverability ratio, one has an advantage in playing a game with a lower manoeuvrability ratio. Moreover XiangQi introduces synergy into your thinking process and playing style. By broadening your horizon, you start to think more creatively; by improving your grasp of spatial relationship, you are visualizing more dynamically; and by deepening your analytical skill, you play more imaginatively.” See the full article, “The Chinese secret to success” at ChessBase.

Personally, due to my heritage, I had some experience of playing XiangQi before switching to Western chess. I was never a strong force at XiangQi, but I do feel that learning that game has helped me develop my understanding of Western chess.

Differences between XiangQi and Chess

Now, I will discuss the differences between the two games, assuming you only know how to play Western chess. There are two new pieces, the cannon and the guard (although the guard is the queen in the figurine version of XiangQi). All the other pieces remain the same, although some of their movements, with the exception of the rook, are different.

XiangQi is played on a board that is 9 lines wide by 10 lines long. Different to Western chess, the pieces are placed on the intersections of lines rather than inside a point. The positions where pieces are placed are known as points. The diagram illustrates the starting positions of the pieces.

The palace is nine points around the general which restricts the movements of both the general and the guards.

The river is a line through the middle of the board which restricts elephants, but invigorates soldiers if they pass it.

Here is a breakdown of the pieces of XiangQi:

General (similar to king) – the general has the same movements as the king except that it cannot move diagonally or outside of the nine points of its “palace”. A general cannot move into a file, which is occupied by the enemy general, unless there is at least one piece positioned between the generals in the file.

Guard/Advisor – guards move one point diagonally and may not leave the palace, which confines them to only five points on the board.

Elephant (similar to bishop) – these pieces move exactly two points diagonally and may not jump over pieces blocking them. Elephants may not cross “the river”. The river is a line through the middle of the board.

Horse (almost exactly the same as knight) – horses are exactly the same as knights but can be impeded by a technique called “hobbling the horse’s leg”, as illustrated in the following diagrams:

The horse cannot move the “long” L-shape (two point forward and one point across) if another piece is directly in front of it. However, it can move in a “short” L-shape (one point forward and two points across).

Chariot (exactly the same as rook) – same as rook, considered to be the strongest piece in the game.

Cannon – cannons move like the chariots, horizontally and vertically, but capture by jumping over exactly one piece (whether it is friendly or enemy) to capture its target. When capturing, the cannon is moved to the point of the captured piece. The cannon may not jump over intervening pieces if not capturing another piece.

Soldier (similar to pawn) – soldiers move and capture forward when behind the river. Once they have crossed the river, they can capture horizontally as well as vertically, although they can never capture diagonally. Soldiers cannot move backwards and do not promote.

Approximate value of the pieces are illustrated in the following table:

Click here to see a discussion of XiangQi notation.

Western chess is technically less complex compared to XiangQi as it has fewer unique possibilities. This is because XiangQi has more points that pieces can land on. The game-tree complexity of Xiangqi is approximately 10150 whereas it is 10120 for Western chess.

I recommend you try out this game with your friends, which should be fun if you are both new to the game. You can either purchase your own set from any good store or you can play online. There are many popular online XiangQi servers that you can play for free, but none that I am particularly familiar with.

A chess website dedicated to writing free chess articles on a range of topics to help the average player improve.